All posts by Admin

Turkish Company to Open R&D Center in Cambridge

Turkish company to open R&D center in Cambridge


Turkish home appliances producer Arçelik has announced it will open a research and development (R&D) center in Cambridge, United Kingdom, where the company has been market leader with its Beko brand, in a written statement on June 25.

The R&D center, which will be established in the Cambridge Science Park run by Cambridge University’s Trinity College, will be Arçelik’s second R&D center abroad after its center in Taiwan.

“The new center will make research and development activities in creating innovative products to create home appliances, such as software, new materials and advanced manufacturing technologies,” said the Koç Holding’s company’s statement.

“Our global brand Beko has proved its high competitiveness power by maintaining its leadership position in the United Kingdom, where consumers have high level of consumption consciousness. Our new R&D center will strengthen our leadership position in the market further,” said Arçelik CEO Hakan Bulgurlu.

The British ambassador in Ankara, Richard Moore, said this investment will play a big role in strengthening trade and investment relations between both countries.

Arçelik has eight R&D centers in Turkey with 1,000 employees in these centers. Arçelik is also the R&D leader in its sector with more than 2,000 patent applications, according to the statement. The company was awarded for its R&D activities, technological contributions and innovations last year by Turkey’s Exporters’ Assembly (TİM).

To conduct, or to insulate? That is the question


Researchers have identified a material that behaves as a conductor and an insulator at the same time, challenging current understanding of how materials behave, and pointing to a new type of insulating state.

The discovery of dual metal-insulator behaviour in a single material has the potential to overturn decades of conventional wisdom regarding the fundamental dichotomy between metals and insulators

Suchitra Sebastian

A new study has discovered mysterious behaviour of a material that acts like an insulator in certain measurements, but simultaneously acts like a conductor in others. In an insulator, electrons are largely stuck in one place, while in a conductor, the electrons flow freely. The results, published today (2 July) in the journal Science, challenge current understanding of how materials behave.

Conductors, such as metals, conduct electricity, while insulators, such as rubber or glass, prevent or block the flow of electricity. But by tracing the path that electrons follow as they move through a material, researchers led by the University of Cambridge found that it is possible for a single material to display dual metal-insulator properties at once – although at the very lowest temperatures, it completely disobeys the rules that govern conventional metals. While it’s not known exactly what’s causing this mysterious behaviour, one possibility is the existence of a potential third phase which is neither insulator nor conductor.

The duelling metal-insulator properties were observed throughout the interior of the material, called samarium hexaboride (SmB6). There are other recently-discovered materials which behave both as a conductor and an insulator, but they are structured like a sandwich, so the surface behaves differently from the bulk. But the new study found that in SmB6, the bulk itself can be both conductor and insulator simultaneously.

“The discovery of dual metal-insulator behaviour in a single material has the potential to overturn decades of conventional wisdom regarding the fundamental dichotomy between metals and insulators,” said Dr Suchitra Sebastian of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research.

In order to learn more about SmB6 and various other materials, Sebastian and her colleagues traced the path that the electrons take as they move through the material: the geometrical surface traced by the orbits of the electrons leads to a construction which is known as a Fermi surface. In order to find the Fermi surface, the researchers used a technique based on measurements of quantum oscillations, which measure various properties of a material in the presence of a high magnetic field to get an accurate ‘fingerprint’ of the material. For quantum oscillations to be observed, the materials must be as close to pure as possible, so that there are minimal defects for the electrons to bump into. Key experiments for the research were conducted at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida.

SmB6 belongs to the class of materials called Kondo insulators, which are close to the border between insulating and conducting behaviour. Kondo insulators are part of a larger group of materials called heavy fermion materials, in which complex physics arises from an interplay of two types of electrons: highly localised ‘f’ electrons, and ‘d’ electrons, which have larger orbits. In the case of SmB6, correlations between these two types of electrons result in insulating behaviour.

“It’s a dichotomy,” said Sebastian. “The high electrical resistance of SmB6 reveals its insulating behaviour, but the Fermi surface we observed was that of a good metal.”

But the mystery didn’t end there. At the very lowest temperatures, approaching 0 degrees Kelvin (-273 Celsius), it became clear that the quantum oscillations for SmB6 are not characteristic of a conventional metal. In metals, the amplitude of quantum oscillations grows and then levels off as the temperature is lowered. Strangely, in the case of SmB6, the amplitude of quantum oscillations continues to grow dramatically as the temperature is lowered, violating the rules that govern conventional metals.

The researchers considered several reasons for this peculiar behaviour: it could be a novel phase, neither insulator nor conductor; it could be fluctuating back and forth between the two; or because SmB6 has a very small ‘gap’ between insulating and conducting behaviour, perhaps the electrons are capable of jumping that gap.

“The crossover region between two different phases – magnetic and non-magnetic, for example – is where the really interesting physics happens,” said Sebastian. “Because this material is close to the crossover region between insulator and conductor, we found it displays some really strange properties – we’re exploring the possibility that it’s a new quantum phase.”

Tim Murphy, the head of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’s DC Field Facility, where most of the research was conducted, said: “This work on SmB6 provides a vivid and exciting illustration of emergent physics resulting from MagLab researchers refining the quality of the materials they study and pushing the sample environment to the extremes of high magnetic fields and low temperatures.”

The Cambridge researchers were funded by the Royal Society, the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, the European Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK).

Traders’ Hormones ‘May Destabilise Financial Markets’

Traders’ hormones ‘may destabilise financial markets’


The hormones testosterone and cortisol may destabilise financial markets by making traders take more risks, according to a study published today in Scientific Reports.

Researchers simulated the trading floor in the lab by having volunteers buy and sell assets amongst themselves. They measured the volunteers’ natural hormone levels in one experiment and artificially raised them in another. When given doses of either hormone, the volunteers invested more in risky assets.

“Our view is that hormonal changes can help us understand traders’ behaviour, particularly during periods of financial instability,” said Dr Carlos Cueva, one of the lead authors of the study, from the Departament of Fundamentos del Análisis Económico at the University of Alicante.

The researchers think the stressful and competitive environment of financial markets may promote high levels of cortisol and testosterone in traders. Cortisol is elevated in response to physical or psychological stress, increasing blood sugar and preparing the body for the fight-or-flight response. Previous studies have shown that men with higher testosterone levels are more likely to be confident and successful in competitive situations.

The authors of the new study suggest the findings should be considered by policymakers looking to develop more stable financial institutions.

Dr Ed Roberts, one of the lead authors of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Our aim is to understand more about how these hormones affect decision making. Then we can look at the environment in which traders work, and think about whether it’s too stressful or too competitive. These factors could be affecting traders’ hormones and having an impact on their risk-taking.”

First the researchers measured levels of the two hormones in saliva samples of 142 volunteers, male and female, playing an asset trading game in groups of around ten. Those who had higher levels of cortisol were more likely to take risks, and high levels in the group were associated with instability in prices.

In a follow-up experiment, 75 young men were given either cortisol or testosterone before playing the game, once with the hormone and once on a placebo. Both hormones shifted investment towards riskier assets. Cortisol appeared to directly affect volunteers’ preference for riskier assets, while testosterone seemed to increase optimism about how prices would change in the future.

“The results suggest that cortisol and testosterone promote risky investment behaviour in the short run,” said Dr Roberts. “We only looked at the acute effects of the hormones in the lab. It would be interesting to measure traders’ hormone levels in the real world, and also to see what the longer term effects might be.”

Economists have long recognised that the unpredictability of human behaviour can make financial markets unstable. John Maynard Keynes wrote of “animal spirits” and Alan Greenspan and Robert Shiller alluded to “irrational exuberance” as a possible cause of overvaluations in asset markets. However, scientists have only recently begun to explore the physiological basis for this phenomenon.

Professor Joe Herbert, a co-author of this study from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, reported in an earlier field study that traders made significantly higher profits on days when their morning testosterone levels were above their daily average, and that increased variability in profits and uncertainty in the market were strongly correlated with elevations in their cortisol levels.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Cueva, C et al. Cortisol and testosterone increase financial risk taking and may destabilize markets. Scientific Reports, 2015.

Adapted from a press release by Imperial College London

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

– See more at:

From Atoms to Jet Engines – Extreme Materials on Display at Summer Exhibition

From atoms to jet engines – extreme materials on display at summer exhibition


At any one time over half a million people are flying far above our heads in modern aircraft. Their lives depend on the performance of the special metals used inside jet e

– See more at:

At any one time over half a million people are flying far above our heads in modern aircraft. Their lives depend on the performance of the special metals used inside jet engines, where temperatures can reach over 2000˚C. Cambridge researchers will be exhibiting these remarkable materials at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

In jet engines, we currently use special metals called superalloys that exhibit exceptional high-temperature mechanical properties and resistance to corrosion

Cathie Rae

The ever-increasing demand for air travel while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions constitutes a huge engineering challenge. Greater efficiency requires engines to run hotter and faster, but today’s best materials are already running close to their limits.

The metals inside a jet engine must operate in a gas stream about a third as hot as the sun’s surface while enduring centrifugal forces equivalent to hanging a double-decker bus from each turbine blade.

At the University of Cambridge, researchers are designing new alloys that are able to withstand even more extreme conditions of stress and temperature, as Dr Cathie Rae at the Cambridge Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre (UTC) explains: “In jet engines, we currently use special metals called superalloys that are created by mixing together nickel with other elements.

“They are called superalloys because they exhibit exceptional high-temperature mechanical properties and resistance to corrosion. In fact, they actually get stronger as we heat them up. We’re trying to make materials that are even better than these superalloys!”

Visitors to the Engineering Atoms exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition from 30 June until 5 July will be able to see how the atomic structure of materials affects their properties, and will be able to handle real jet engine components.

In the Rolls-Royce UTC, scientists work in close collaboration with one of the world’s leading engine manufacturers, Rolls-Royce plc, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to design and make new high-temperature materials. To achieve this, they need to understand everything from the shape and design of the component right down to the behaviour of individual atoms in the metal. By engineering the arrangement of the atoms, varying their type, position and size, researchers can radically change how these metals perform.

This involves the use of powerful microscopes that use electrons instead of optical light to examine materials on the atomic scale. By using these electron microscopes, researchers can look at individual rows of atoms and identify their composition. The Engineering Atoms stand will have a working scanning electron microscope, the Phenom ProX, so visitors will be able to look at alloys on the micrometre scale.

Engineering Atoms will also be exhibiting amazing materials that ‘remember’ their original shape after they’ve been deformed. These ‘shape-memory’ alloys, made from titanium and nickel, can be used to control and optimise airflow in jet engines where conventional hydraulic or electrical control systems would be difficult to operate.

The Summer Science Exhibition will be open to the public from 30 June to 5 July 2015.

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

– See more at:

Qualcomm Snaps Up Second Cambridge Company With Nujira Acquisition

Qualcomm snaps up second Cambridge company with Nujira acquisition

Nujira CEO Tim Haynes
source: Business Weekly and Tony Quested


US technology giant Qualcomm has snapped up its second cutting-edge Cambridge company this year by agreeing to acquire Nujira.

Qualcomm sources have confirmed the deal to Business Weekly but are not releasing any figures and say no more details are yet to hand.

The company is close to completing the $2.5 billion acquisition of Cambridge wireless company CSR – a transaction set to close by the end of this summer.

Snapping up Nujira, which specialises in envelope tracking technology, has looked to be on the cards for some while. In 2013, Qualcomm became the first company to ship a chip with such technology, which it claimed to be the industry’s first for 3G and 4G LTE mobile devices.

The new Google Nexus 5 not only features the company’s fastest mobile processor, the Snapdragon 800 SoC, but also features a certain Qualcomm QFE1100 envelope tracking chipset, which is a front-end for OEMs to design global 4G LTE compatible devices, like the Nexus 5.

The Nexus 5 also utilises the Qualcomm QFE1100 feature, an important component of the upcoming Qualcomm RF360 Front End, a comprehensive, system-level solution that allows OEMs to develop a single, global 4G LTE design.

Nujira is a world leader in ET technology but CEO Tim Haynes (pictured) had no comment to make when approached by Business Weekly about a potential acquisition.

Nujira has 240 patents and earlier this year raised $20 million (£12.2m) to support production of its Coolteq chips, fund continued development of its long term product roadmap and open a new design centre in Santa Clara in Silicon Valley.

Each of the existing angel and major investors participated in the round including Hermann Hauser’s Amadeus Capital Partners, Climate Change Capital, Environmental Technologies Fund, SAM Private Equity and NES Partners.

Investec Bank also introduced new investors to the company including GAM – on behalf of its GAM Star Technology strategy – and Investec as well as other institutional and high net worth clients.

Haynes said at the time: “Envelope Tracking will shortly be a standard component in 4G smartphones and tablets but we aren’t just focused on how ET can be implemented in the latest handsets; we are already working on the next three generations of our ET chips.

“The company is in a strong position, we have good traction with some world-leading customers and we have a compelling product roadmap. The new investment will be important in helping us execute our aggressive growth plans, as we look to take advantage of our position as the leading authority on ET.”

To support its product development roadmap Nujira announced it would be opening a new design centre in Santa Clara. Adding to Nujira’s world-class design team in the UK, the new hub was designed to focus on the development of next generation ET ICs.

Envelope tracking has become a must-have technology recently after being incorporated into high-end smartphones, including the Nexus 5, the Galaxy Note 3 and HTC’s One M8. The technology optimises the power flowing through a smartphone’s radio, cutting power drain on the battery.

This February, Qualcomm announced its entry into the RF front end business with a chip-set using envelope tracking – invented by Nujira. Qualcomm adopted the Nujira approach.

Nujira has actually been a pioneer of ET as applied to cellular radio for more than a decade. The technique saves power compared with conventional constant-supply voltage power amplifiers (PAs) by dynamically adapting the PA supply voltage to the signal amplitude, thus reducing the power consumption of the PA that transmits the signal to the antenna.

– See more at:

Expanding the DNA Alphabet: ‘Extra’ DNA Base Found to be Stable in Mammals

Expanding the DNA alphabet: ‘extra’ DNA base found to be stable in mammals


A rare DNA base, previously thought to be a temporary modification, has been shown to be stable in mammalian DNA, suggesting that it plays a key role in cellular function.

This will alter the thinking of people in the study of development and the role that these modifications may play in the development of certain diseases

Shankar Balasubramanian

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Babraham Institute have found that a naturally occurring modified DNA base appears to be stably incorporated in the DNA of many mammalian tissues, possibly representing an expansion of the functional DNA alphabet.

The new study, published today (22 June) in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, has found that this rare ‘extra’ base, known as 5-formylcytosine (5fC) is stable in living mouse tissues. While its exact function is yet to be determined, 5fC’s physical position in the genome makes it likely that it plays a key role in gene activity.

“This modification to DNA is found in very specific positions in the genome – the places which regulate genes,” said the paper’s lead author Dr Martin Bachman, who conducted the research while at Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry. “In addition, it’s been found in every tissue in the body – albeit in very low levels.”

“If 5fC is present in the DNA of all tissues, it is probably there for a reason,” said Professor Shankar Balasubramanian of the Department of Chemistry and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, who led the research. “It had been thought this modification was solely a short-lived intermediate, but the fact that we’ve demonstrated it can be stable in living tissue shows that it could regulate gene expression and potentially signal other events in cells.”

Since the structure of DNA was discovered more than 60 years ago, it’s been known that there are four DNA bases: G, C, A and T (Guanine, Cytosine, Adenine and Thymine). The way these bases are ordered determines the makeup of the genome.

In addition to G, C, A and T, there are also small chemical modifications, or epigenetic marks, which affect how the DNA sequence is interpreted and control how certain genes are switched on or off. The study of these marks and how they affect gene activity is known as epigenetics.

5fC is one of these marks, and is formed when enzymes called TET enzymes add oxygen to methylated DNA – a DNA molecule with smaller molecules of methyl attached to the cytosine base. First discovered in 2011, it had been thought that 5fC was a ‘transitional’ state of the cytosine base which was then being removed from DNA by dedicated repair enzymes. However, this new research has found that 5fC can actually be stable in living tissue, making it likely that it plays a key role in the genome.

Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, the researchers examined levels of 5fC in living adult and embryonic mouse tissues, as well as in mouse embryonic stem cells – the body’s master cells which can become almost any cell type in the body.

They found that 5fC is present in all tissues, but is very rare, making it difficult to detect. Even in the brain, where it is most common, 5fC is only present at around 10 parts per million or less. In other tissues throughout the body, it is present at between one and five parts per million.

The researchers applied a method consisting of feeding cells and living mice with an amino acid called L-methionine, enriched for naturally occurring stable isotopes of carbon and hydrogen, and measuring the uptake of these isotopes to 5fC in DNA. The lack of uptake in the non-dividing adult brain tissue pointed to the fact that 5fC can be a stable modification: if it was a transient molecule, this uptake of isotopes would be high.

The researchers believe that 5fC might alter the way DNA is recognised by proteins. “Unmodified DNA interacts with a specific set of proteins, and the presence of 5fC could change these interactions either directly or indirectly by changing the shape of the DNA duplex,” said Bachman. “A different shape means that a DNA molecule could then attract different proteins and transcription factors, which could in turn change the way that genes are expressed.”

“This will alter the thinking of people in the study of development and the role that these modifications may play in the development of certain diseases,” said Balasubramanian. “While work is continuing in determining the exact function of this ‘extra’ base, its position in the genome suggests that it has a key role in the regulation of gene expression.”

The research was supported by Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council UK.

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

– See more at:

‘Pick & Mix’ Smart Materials for Robotics

‘Pick & mix’ smart materials for robotics


Researchers have successfully combined multiple functions into a single smart life-like material for the first time. These ‘designer’ materials could be used in the robotics, automotive, aerospace and security industries.

We’re peeling back some of the layers of mystery that surround life

Stoyan Smoukov

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a simple ‘recipe’ for combining multiple materials with single functions into a single material with multiple functions: movement, recall of movement and sensing – similar to muscles in animals. The materials could be used to make robotics far more efficient by replacing bulky devices with a single, smarter, life-like material. The results are published in the journal Advanced Materials.

The new designer materials integrate the structure of two or more separate functions at the nanoscale, while keeping the individual materials physically separate. The gaps between the individual elements are so small that the final material is uniformly able to perform the functions of its component parts.

The materials are synthesised either in a one-pot reaction, with or without solvents; or through a series of sequential reactions, where the component parts are synthesised separately one by one, and sequentially infiltrated and cross-linked at the nanoscale.

“We’re used to thinking of synthetic materials as structural, rather than functional things,” said Dr Stoyan Smoukov of the University’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, who led the research. “But we’re now entering a new era of multi-functional materials, which could be considered robots themselves, since we can program them to carry out a series of actions independently.”

Smoukov’s group had previously demonstrated combined movement and muscle memory in a single material, but this is the first time that materials have been specifically designed and synthesised to perform multiple functions.

Smart polymers were first developed several decades ago, but multiple functions have not been effectively combined in the same material, since previous efforts have found that optimising one function came at the expense of the other.

In these new materials, the individual functions are integrated yet kept separate at the nanoscale. The researchers combined two different types of smart materials: an ionic electro-active polymer (i-EAP), which bends or swells with the application of voltage and are used in soft robotics; and a two-way shape memory polymer (SMP), which can be programmed to adopt and later recall specific shapes, in a type of muscle memory.

The resulting combined material is what’s known as an inter-penetrated network (IPN). Due to the fact that the separate components are meshed at the nanoscale, there are unbroken paths within each component from one side of the material to the other, yet there are nanoscale boundaries between them as well. Such IPNs are highly resistant to cracks, making them very mechanically stable. Rather than stop at mechanical stability, the researchers were interested in using these structures to make multi-functional artificial muscles, which can move, sense, and also report on their environment.

The movement in these hybrid materials can be controlled in several different ways, including by light, temperature, chemicals, electric field or magnetic field. These various stimuli can be used to make the materials change colour, emit light or energy, or change shape.

Making IPNs has been tried before with a type of plastic known as a block copolymer, but it has been difficult to fine-tune their exact structure because of difficult synthetic procedures. These difficulties limit the types of functionalities that can be combined, and those that are made are sometimes too costly for practical applications. In this case the researchers were able to use phase separation combined with ordinary polymer syntheses to achieve the complex structures.

According to the researchers, utilising this technique may open up a whole new avenue for smart materials, since materials that have been designed for other, single, purposes could create a large variety of multi-functional combinations. Much like choosing from an array of starters, main courses and desserts in a restaurant menu to create a multitude of dinner options, materials that perform different single functions can be combined in a mix-and-match approach to perform a myriad of tri-functional combinations. And in theory, according to the researchers, more than three intertwined components are achievable as well.

“It’s sort of like proteins, where using just 20 amino acids, you can get 8,000 different combinations of three amino acids,” said Smoukov. “Using this method, we can pick and choose from a menu of functions, and then mix them together to make materials that can do multiple things.”

The capabilities of these materials could make them very useful in robotics – in fact, said Smoukov, these types of materials could even be considered robots on their own.

“We’re trying to design materials that approach the flexibility of living things,” said Smoukov. “Looking at the functionality of living things, we then want to extract that functionality and find a way to do it more simply in a synthetic material. We’re peeling back some of the layers of mystery that surround life.”

The research has been funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

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

– See more at:

Study Suggests New Treatment for Impulsivity in Some Dementia Patients

Study suggests new treatment for impulsivity in some dementia patients


Restoring the low levels of the chemical serotonin may help improve brain function and reduce impulsivity in some dementia patients, according to Cambridge researchers. A study published in the July edition of the journal Brain suggests a potential new treatment for people affected by frontotemporal dementia.

This is a very promising result, which suggests that it may be possible to treat patients safely and effectively for high risk and challenging impulsive behaviours

Laura Hughes

Around 16,000 people in the UK are estimated to be affected by frontotemporal dementia (also known as Pick’s disease). Patients are often affected at a young age, 50-65 years old. The disease affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, at the front with both shrinkage and loss of important brain chemicals like serotonin. As a result, symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include changes in personality and behaviour, and difficulties with language.

One of the key symptoms is disinhibition – impulsivity and impetuous behaviour. This is partly a result of a deficiency in serotonin, an important chemical within the brain which is responsible for maintaining normal behaviour as well as mood.

A team led by Dr James Rowe from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge looked at whether citalopram, a commonly-prescribed antidepressant, might restore the brain function – and potentially alleviate the symptoms of disinhibition. Citalopram is known to restore levels of serotonin, even in patients who do not have depression; this increase in serotonin helps the brain activity needed make decisions about what to do, and what not to do.

The researchers examined the brain activity associated with disinhibition in patients and healthy volunteers. The patients received either a dose of citalopram or a placebo, in a double-blinded placebo-controlled trial. Participants took part in a ‘Go-NoGo’ task whilst their brain activity was monitored using a combination of magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG). In the task, the volunteers needed to intermittently hold back from a habitual action, choosing to press or not to press buttons.

As expected, patients with frontotemporal dementia made many errors on the task, with difficulty holding back from actions. The performance on the task was closely related to their everyday impulsive and disinhibited behaviours.  Compared to the placebo, citalopram boosted activity in the dementia patients in their right inferior frontal gyrus, a critical region of the brain for controlling our behaviour, even though this part of the brain was shrunken by the disease.

Dr Laura Hughes from the University of Cambridge and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, first author on the study, says: “This is a very promising result, which builds on a lot of basic laboratory science here in Cambridge. It suggests that it may be possible to treat patients safely and effectively for high risk and challenging impulsive behaviours, although more work is needed to identify those who are most likely to benefit from this type of drug.”

The research was primarily funded by the Wellcome Trust with additional support from the Medical Research Council and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Hughes, LE et al. Improving response inhibition systems in frontotemporal dementia with citalopram. Brain; e-pub 22 May 2015

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

– See more at:

Computer Tutor

Computer tutor


Millions of English language tests are taken each year by non-native English speakers. Researchers at Cambridge’s ALTA Institute are building ‘computer tutors’ to help learners prepare for the exam that could change their lives.

Humans are good teachers because they show understanding of people’s problems, but machines are good at dealing with large amounts of data, seeing patterns, and giving feedback

Nick Saville, Cambridge Assessment

“We arrived to our destination and we looked each other.”

To a native English speaker, the mistakes in this sentence are clear. But someone learning English would need a teacher to point them out, explain the correct use of prepositions and check later that they have improved. All of which takes time.

Now imagine the learner was able to submit a few paragraphs of text online and, in a matter of seconds, receive an accurate grade, sentence-by-sentence feedback on its linguistic quality and useful suggestions for improvement.

This is Cambridge English Write & Improve – an online learning system, or ‘computer tutor’, to help English language learners – and it’s built on information from almost 65 million words gathered over a 20-year period from tests taken by real exam candidates speaking 148 different languages living in 217 different countries or territories.

Built by Professor Ted Briscoe’s team in Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, it’s an example of a new kind of tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning to assess and give guidance on text it has never seen before, and to do this indistinguishably from a human examiner.

“About a billion people worldwide are studying English as a further language, with a projected peak in 2050 of about two billion,” says Briscoe. “There are 300 million people actively preparing for English exams at any one time. All of them will need multiple tests during this learning process.”

Language testing affects the lives of millions of people every year; a successful test result could open the door to jobs, further education and even countries.

But marking tests and giving individual feedback is one of the most time-consuming tasks that a teacher can face. Automating the process makes sense, says Dr Nick Saville, Director of Research and Validation at Cambridge Assessment.

“Humans are good teachers because they show understanding of people’s problems, but machines are good at dealing with routine things and large amounts of data, seeing patterns, and giving feedback that the teacher or the learner can use. These tools can free up the teacher’s time to focus on actual teaching.”

Cambridge Assessment, a not-for-profit part of the University, produces and marks English language tests taken by over five million people each year. Two years ago, they teamed up with Briscoe’s team and Professor Mark Gales in the Department of Engineering and Dr Paula Buttery in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics to launch the Automated Language Teaching and Assessment (ALTA) Institute, directed by Briscoe. Their aim is to create tools to support learners of both written and spoken English.

Underpinning Write & Improve is information gleaned from a vast dataset of quality-scored text – the Cambridge Learner Corpus. Built by Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment, this is the world’s largest collection of exam papers taken by English language learners around the world.

Each test has been transcribed and information gathered about the learner’s age, language and grade achieved. Crucially, all errors (grammar, spelling, misuse, word sequences, and so on) have been annotated so that a computer can process the natural language used by the learner.

Write & Improve works by supervised machine learning – having learnt from the Corpus of errors, it can make inferences about new unannotated data. Since its launch as a beta version in March 2014, the program has attracted over 20,000 repeat users. And each new piece of text it receives continues this process of learning and improving its accuracy, which is already running at almost equal to the most experienced human markers.

Briscoe believes that this sort of technology has the potential to change the landscape of teaching and assessment practices: “Textbooks are rapidly morphing into courseware where people can test their understanding as they go along. This fits with pedagogical frameworks in which the emphasis is on individual profiling of students and giving them tailored advice on what they can most usefully move onto next.”

He regards the set-up of ALTA as the “best type” of technology transfer: “We do applied research and have a pipeline for transferring this to products. But that pipeline also produces data that feeds back into research.”

The complex algorithms that underpin Write & Improve are being further developed and customised by iLexIR, a company Briscoe and others set up to convert university research into practical applications; and a new company, English Language iTutoring, has been created to deliver Write & Improve and similar web-based products via the cloud and to capture the data that will feed back into the R&D effort to improve the tutoring products.

Now, the researchers are looking beyond text to speech. Assessing spoken English brings a set of very different challenges to assessing written English. The technology needs to be able to cope with the complexities of the human voice: the rhythm, stress and intonation of speech, the uhms and ahhs, the pauses.

“The fact that you can get speech recognition on your phone tends to imply in some people’s minds that speech recognition is solved,” says Gales, Professor of Information Engineering. “But the technology still struggles with second language speech. We need to be able to assess the richness in people’s spoken responses, including whether it’s the correct expression of emotion or the development of an argument.” Gales is developing new forms of machine learning, again using databases of examples of spoken English.

“The data-driven approach is the only way to create tools like these,” adds Briscoe. “Building automated tests that use multiple choice is easy. The stuff we are doing is messy, and it’s ever- changing. We’ve shown that if you train a system to this year’s exam on data from 10 years ago the system is less accurate than if you train it on data from last year.”

This is why, says Briscoe, it’s unimaginable to reach a point where the machines have learned enough to understand and predict almost all of the typical mistakes learners make: “Language is a moving target. English is constantly being globalised; vocabulary changes; grammar evolves; and methods of assessment change as progress in pedagogy happen. I don’t think there will ever be a point when we can say ‘we are done now’.”

Inset image: Professor Ted Briscoe (University of Cambridge).

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

– See more at:

Preparing Social Scientists For the World of Big Data

Preparing social scientists for the world of big data


The UK lags behind other countries in preparing social scientists for the world of big data, says Dr Brendan Burchell, Director of a new centre set up to teach undergraduates the advanced quantitative skills they will need to work with massive datasets.

Over the next few decades – the career span of current undergraduates – we are likely to see huge advances in the use of quantitative data

Brendan Burchell

This month sees the first cohort of students completing their courses and starting work placements with the Cambridge Undergraduate Quantitative Methods Centre (CUQM). Established last year in the Department of Sociology, the Centre is dedicated to improving the provision of quantitative methods training to social science and humanities undergraduates in Cambridge.

“The UK is already way ahead of many other countries in the availability of large datasets that can be used to inform both policy and social science research,” says Burchell. “Over the next few decades – the career span of current undergraduates – we are likely to see huge advances in the use of quantitative data including datasets that can only by analysed with big data techniques.”

The increasing ubiquity of big data in the social sciences stems not just from the increasing use of massive datasets in areas such as education and economics, but also to a rise in the use of ‘messier’ data – anything from the way that people engage with Twitter and Facebook, to the public records held by government agencies across Europe – which often require data ‘cleaning’ before statistical analysis can be carried out.

According to Burchell, big data is providing a huge resource that is currently underutilised, which is one of the motivations for establishing the Centre.

“We now have access to a lot of large datasets collected either at a British or a European level, but we lack people with the skills to make use of it. It’s been a bigger problem in the UK than in other countries because a lot of our school kids specialise and give up doing maths at a younger age, and there’s this idea that if you were good at numbers you’d end up doing physics or natural sciences and if you weren’t good at numbers you’d end up doing social science,” Burchell explains.

“But even if you don’t end up doing statistical analyses yourself, it’s important to understand how they’re relevant – where numbers are useful and where they can be misleading,” he adds.

Rather than increasing the basic statistical skills of all students in certain disciplines – which has been tried before in many universities – the Centre has focused on providing more advanced expertise to a proportion of undergraduates across many social science disciplines.

Some subjects, such as Psychology and Economics, already have all students graduating with good levels of quantitative skills. CUQM aims to increase the proportion of graduates leaving Cambridge with these advanced skills in the other social sciences, better preparing them to work with large datasets themelves or to understand how others draw conclusions from them.

“These skills will become increasingly vital for careers in social science research, but they will also make students much more employable in most other sectors as well,” says Burchell. The Centre also works to find placements for students with organisations like YouGov, so that they can experience how statistics skills will be relevant in the workplace.

The first year’s activities have been open to students of archaeology, biological anthropology, education, history, land economy, linguistics, politics, social anthropology and sociology. In the coming year, the Centre will extend the exposure to statistics in the social science courses at Cambridge, as well as introducing more examples of quantitative methods into the teaching of these disciplines. CUQM also aims to provide optional vacation courses to those students who currently don’t have a quantitative data analysis component to their degree, thus preparing more social scientists to engage with the world of big data.

CUQM is part of a wider initiative to train social scientists in research methods at the University of Cambridge. The Social Science Research Methods Centre, for instance, complements the work of CUQM by teaching quantitative methods to graduate students, post-docs and lecturers.


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

– See more at:

Brains Eden – VIP Invitation



We have big plans we’d like to share with you.

Anglia Ruskin University are raising the standards for game development and associated skills in Cambridge. To that end, not only does it host the annual, highly successful ‘Brains Eden’ gaming festival (, which brings the very best young talent from across Europe to the UK but also the University have recently bid for £2.3 million worth of European funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Interegg 2 Seas to provide further creative industries support initiatives.

This year Brains Eden #7 runs from 26 – 29 June 2015 and is special as it will be the final event to be held at ARU East Road campus. Brains Eden #8 (24 – 27 June 2016) will take place at the brand new Compass House facility which will house the Computer Game Art and Game Technology BA, MA and MSc courses and newly refurbished cutting edge computer suites serving up to 300 people.

Brains Eden #7 closes with a big finale on Monday June 29 and we would like to host you for lunch, a VIP tour of Compass House, deliver an overview of our ambition for Brains Eden and the REACTOR incubator and let you get hands on with the digital creations of attendee ingénue talent.

Please make a space in your diary for Monday June 29 from 12.30 – 4.00. We will start with lunch at the Ruskin Gallery at ARU East Road and let’s have an informal chat about commercial/academic engagement and how we might best help one another in the pursuit of digital creative excellence locally.

We would really like to see you – please confirm your attendance to:

Clare Green

Images of Rare Magna Carta Find Go Online

Images of rare Magna Carta find go online


Images of a rare copy of Magna Carta at St John’s College are being made available to coincide with the document’s 800th anniversary.

Even if historians had seen a record of the St John’s copy in the past, they would probably not have recognised its significance as they would have been unaware that it was in this form

A rare 14th Century copy of Magna Carta that appears to have been unnoticed for generations, until it was uncovered during research marking the document’s 800th anniversary, can be viewed online from today (Friday, 12 June).

The copy, which is owned by St John’s College, University of Cambridge, dates back to the reign of Edward I, and is one of just a handful of surviving statute rolls that recite clauses from the famous charter. Edward I was one of the monarchs who reissued a version of the Magna Carta, which was originally produced in 1215, during the reign of King John.

Although it had been preserved in the College archives, the manuscript appears to have been overlooked – and may indeed have been completely unknown to historians – until now. Its significance was only realised when Professor Nicholas Vincent, from the University of East Anglia and head of the national Magna Carta Project, contacted the College to enquire about documents that be believed contained clauses from the charter.

Professor Vincent realised that the item is, in fact, an early-to-mid 14th Century example of a type of statute roll that would have been used to circulate parts of Magna Carta throughout medieval England. While these were once commonplace, only about a dozen are known to exist today.

Ahead of the anniversary of Magna Carta, on June 15th, the College is releasing images of the copy online along with a short accompanying film. Members of the public can also view the charter by making an appointment to visit the College archives.

The document’s importance is thought to have gone undetected because no systematic attempt to collect the surviving copies of Magna Carta had been undertaken until the 800th anniversary project was launched. Even if historians had seen a record of the St John’s copy in the past, they would probably not have recognised its significance as they would have been unaware that it was in roll form.

In fact, for statute rolls of Magna Carta to survive is very rare. Earlier generations considered the parchment of which they were made very useful for secondary purposes, including lighting fires, and even as animal feed! As a result, most such rolls were lost. Judging by the valuation of similar items at auction, the St John’s copy is thought to be worth several tens of thousands of pounds.

Although it was famously agreed to by King John at Runnymeade, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215, much of Magna Carta had been repealed or rewritten within 10 years of its issue. Modified versions were reissued under both Henry III and Edward I, with some of the more radical clauses in particular removed.

Edward agreed to a renewal of Magna Carta in 1297, and then reissued it on 28 March 1300. The roll at St John’s College recites this 1300 reissue and may have been preserved by the Hospital of St John that once stood on part of what is now the College.

In common with various other copies of Magna Carta that have surfaced in the past, the manuscript is part of a larger document. In this case it was stitched together with a lawyer’s copy of the assize of bread and ale, a law which regulated the price, weight and quality of the bread and beer manufactured and sold in England, and was the first in British history to regulate the production and sale of food. The roll also recites clauses from the Forest Charter, which was issued as a companion document to Magna Carta in 1217 and dealt with rights of access to the royal forest.

The Magna Carta Project, which is led by Professor Vincent, is a collaborative initiative between several universities that aims to track down lost originals of Magna Carta and create an online database featuring commentary, translations, and research findings about the charter. The team are sifting through hundreds of archives as part of their research.

The St John’s copy is being made available to view as part of the nationwide Explore Your Archive Magna Carta campaign, in which archives around the country that have a copy of Magna Carta are being encouraged to make it available to the wider public.

Tracy Deakin, Archivist at St John’s College, said that it was not uncommon for long-forgotten historical documents to resurface from archives, many of which are being made available publically in a manner that was not possible a few decades ago.  “This sort of discovery is a lot more typical than people might think,” she said. “A couple of generations back, archivists did a very different type of job and would not have been able to command the same kind of accessible detail about everything in their archive in the way that we can now.”

For more information about the St John’s College archives, including visiting times, please go to:

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

– See more at:

New NICE Thresholds Could Miss Up to 4,000 Women Per Year at Risk From Diabetes in Pregnancy

New NICE thresholds could miss up to 4,000 women per year at risk from diabetes in pregnancy


The new threshold for diabetes in pregnancy recently introduced by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) misses a significant number of women at risk of serious complications, a report published today in the journal Diabetologia shows.

While cost effectiveness is important in any health care system, we must not forget the psychological and emotional distress that complications can cause. This cannot be measured in economic terms alone

Claire Meek

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust has discovered that the proposed new NICE thresholds are less effective than international thresholds set by World Health Organization (WHO) at identifying women who are adversely affected by high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

Diabetes that arises during pregnancy, often disappearing after delivery, is known as gestational diabetes and is becoming increasingly common in the UK. However, there is a lack of consensus about the best way to identify women with the condition. Untreated gestational diabetes can create a risk to the health of both mother and baby and may be associated with pre-eclampsia, excessive amniotic fluid, birth defects, high birthweight, emergency Caesarean section, and low blood sugar levels in the babies after birth. Identifying gestational diabetes during pregnancy allows treatment and dietary advice to be given that reduces the risk of adverse outcomes.

There is a lot of controversy about the best criteria to use to diagnose gestational diabetes. The international criteria recommended by WHO require three blood tests to be taken altogether. One test is taken in the fasting state and the other tests are taken one and two hours after a drink containing sugar. These criteria consider that women with high fasting blood sugars have gestational diabetes, with a 75% increased risk of pregnancy complications. However, these diagnostic thresholds would diagnose substantially more women with gestational diabetes than are currently identified, which may create strain on resources for antenatal care.

In February 2015, NICE introduced new guidelines requiring two blood tests only (fasting and two hours after a sugary drink) and recommending a less strict fasting blood sugar threshold for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes. However, these criteria were identified based on cost effectiveness estimates alone, using old NHS hospital payment data, and have never been tested in clinical practice.

Dr Claire Meek and a team of doctors and scientists assessed the risks related to high blood sugar in over 25,000 women who gave birth at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge between 2004 and 2008 using anonymised hospital records as part of a service evaluation. They found that women who had borderline levels of fasting blood sugar were at much higher risk of having a high birthweight baby compared to the healthy population. In fact, these babies were on average 350g heavier. Their mothers were twice as likely to have had an emergency Caesarean section and seven times more likely to develop excessive amniotic fluid. These women would be missed using the new NICE criteria.

Using the WHO guidelines instead of the NICE guidelines at the Rosie Hospital would have resulted in 126 more diagnoses of gestational diabetes over five years. Although this accounts for less than one in 200 pregnancies, these pregnancies accounted for a disproportionately high number of poor outcomes – four in 100 cases of high birthweight babies; just under three in 100 cases of pre-eclampsia; and over five in 100 cases of excessive amniotic fluid), many of which might have been preventable with treatment. Overall, the researchers estimate that this issue is likely to affect 3,000 to 4,000 women each year in the UK.

“There is a fundamental difference between the international criteria and the new NICE 2015 criteria: the international criteria are based on minimising the risk of harm to the mother and baby, whereas the NICE criteria have been based upon reducing costs to the NHS,” explains Dr Meek from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge. “While cost effectiveness is important in any health care system, we must not forget the psychological and emotional distress that complications can cause. This cannot be measured in economic terms alone.”

The study authors also express concern that the UK will miss out on international efforts to improve care for women with diabetes in pregnancy by using lower standards than most other countries.

“The new NICE guidelines contain many different recommendations for the management of diabetes in pregnancy and almost all of these recommendations are beneficial and based upon up-to-date evidence,” adds Dr David Simmons from Cambridge University Hospitals. “This is not the case with the diagnostic criteria for gestational diabetes. These should aim to improve health for all pregnant women and their babies by identifying those at greatest risk of complications, and who may benefit the most from dietary changes or other forms of treatment.

“Doctors need to be aware that the new NICE criteria will miss high-risk women, especially those with borderline fasting blood sugar.”

The research was funded by the European Union, the Wellcome Trust and GlaxoSmithKline.

Adapted from a press release from Diabetologia

Meek, CL et al. Diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus: falling through the net. Diabetologia; 12 June 2015

– See more at:

The Price of a Happy Ending Can Be Bad Decision-Making, Say Researchers

The price of a happy ending can be bad decision-making, say researchers


Research using gambling techniques shows that even very recent experiences carry a ‘temporal markdown’ so that those more immediate carry disproportionate weight in decision-making, meaning that a ‘happy ending’ can wildly skew what we think we should do next over what experience would tell us.

A minority were able to maintain a seemingly perfect ability – at least within the parameters of the experiment – to see time on an equal footing

Martin Vestergaard

New research using high-speed gambling experiments shows that, for most of us, the last experience we’ve had can be the defining one when it comes to taking a decision, coming at the expense of other experiences we’ve accumulated further back in time.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, supports the idea that the ‘banker’s fallacy’ – focusing on immediate growth at the expense of longer-term stability that would produce better results – is intuitive in the way many of us make quick decisions.

People’s natural inclination towards a ‘happy ending’ means that we often ascribe greater value to experiences than they are worth, say researchers, meaning that we end up overvaluing experiences with a final uptick over those that taper at the last minute, despite being of equal or even lesser overall value, and making our next moves on that basis.

Writing in the journal, they use the analogy of a three-course dinner: it has mediocre starter, a fine main, and an excellent dessert. This will be viewed much more favourably – and have much more weight in any future decision – than the inverse: an excellent starter and ending with a mediocre dessert, despite the fact that overall both experiences share equal value.

Researchers say that the computational demand to try and factor in all experiences equally would be vast, so our brain constantly updates its internal ‘logbook’ as we go, with each new experience being condensed and then ranked against the previous few for context. Then, a new experience only has to be judged against the running total.

However, a ‘temporal markdown’ comes into play, meaning that the further back an experience, even if still quite recent, the less weight it carries in the next decision despite its relevant value; the most immediate experiences carry much more weight in decision-making than they should – meaning a recent ‘happy ending’ has a hugely disproportionate influence, say researchers.

They say that a wealth of information and experience “leaks” as a result of this cognitive mechanism, leading to false and delusional beliefs that cause wrong-headed and often short-term decision-making despite historical experience that should convince us of the contrary.

Yet a small number of those tested (nine of the 41 participants) were able to maintain an almost perfect capacity to recall previous experience accurately, without the markdown of past experiences, and make solid long-term decisions as a result – almost as if they were “looking down on time” said lead author Dr Martin Vestergaard.

“Most people we tested fall foul of the ‘banker’s fallacy’, and make poor short-term decisions as a result. This may be because they struggle to access historical experience, or give it the correct value, but we also think they become overly impressed with the moment to moment fluctuation of experiences,” said Vestergaard, from Cambridge University’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

“While the majority of participants made decisions based only on very or most recent events, a minority were able to maintain a seemingly perfect ability – at least within the parameters of the experiment – to see time on an equal footing, unconstrained by the myopia inherent in the decision-making of most,” he said.

“The next stages of our research will be to use imaging techniques to look at whether this ability is linked to certain parts of the brain, or perhaps social conditioning such as age and education.”

Vestergaard did question age and occupation for the initial study, and found no correlation between those who are older, or who have a more or less technical occupation, with this panoptical ability to flatten time, but says the current sample size is too small to draw conclusions.

The experiment involved participants trying to accumulate money by gambling between two sets of gold coins of varying sizes at high reactions times so participants were forced to go on memory and instinct.

– See more at:

Reprogramming of DNA Observed in Human Germ Cells for First Time

Reprogramming of DNA observed in human germ cells for first time


A team of researchers led by the University of Cambridge has described for the first time in humans how the epigenome – the suite of molecules attached to our DNA that switch our genes on and off – is comprehensively erased in early primordial germ cells prior to the generation of egg and sperm. However, the study, published today in the journal Cell, shows some regions of our DNA – including those associated with conditions such as obesity and schizophrenia – resist complete reprogramming.

[The information on our DNA] needs to be reset in every generation before further information is added to regulate development of a newly fertilised egg. It’s like erasing a computer disk before you add new data

Azim Surani

Although our genetic information – the ‘code of life’ – is written in our DNA, our genes are turned on and off by epigenetic ‘switches’. For example, small methyl molecules attach to our DNA in a process known as methylation and contribute to the regulation of gene activity, which is important for normal development.  Methylation may also occur spontaneously or through our interaction with the environment – for example, periods of famine can lead to methylation of certain genes – and some methylation patterns can be potentially damaging to our health.  Almost all of this epigenetic information is, however, erased in germ cells prior to transmission to the next generation.

Professor Azim Surani from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, explains: “Epigenetic information is important for regulating our genes, but any abnormal methylation, if passed down from generation to generation, may accumulate and be detrimental to offspring. For this reason, the information needs to be reset in every generation before further information is added to regulate development of a newly fertilised egg. It’s like erasing a computer disk before you add new data.”

When an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm, it begins to divide into a cluster of cells known as a blastocyst, the early stage of the embryo. Within the blastocyst, some cells are reset to their master state, becoming stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any type of cell within the body. A small number of these cells become primordial germ cells with the potential to become sperm or egg cells.

In a study funded primarily by the Wellcome Trust, Professor Surani and colleagues showed that a process of reprogramming the epigenetic information contained in these primordial germ cells is initiated around two weeks into the embryo’s development and continues through to around week nine. During this period, a genetic network acts to inhibit the enzymes that maintain or programme the epigenome until the DNA is almost clear of its methylation patterns.

Crucially, however, the researchers found that this process does not clear the entire epigenome: around 5% of our DNA appears resistant to reprogramming. These ‘escapee’ regions of the genome contain some genes that are particularly active in neuronal cells, which may serve important functions during development.  However, data analysis of human diseases suggests that such genes are associated with conditions such as schizophrenia, metabolic disorders and obesity.

Walfred Tang, a PhD student who is the first author on the study, adds: “Our study has given us a good resource of potential candidates of regions of the genome where epigenetic information is passed down not just to the next generation but potentially to future generations, too. We know that some of these regions are the same in mice, too, which may provide us with the opportunity to study their function in greater detail.”

Epigenetic reprogramming also has potential consequences for the so-called ‘dark matter’ within our genome. As much as half of human DNA is estimated to be comprised of ‘retroelements’, regions of DNA that have entered our genome from foreign invaders including bacteria and plant DNA. Some of these regions can be beneficial and even drive evolution – for example, some of the genes important to the development of the human placenta started life as invaders. However, others can have a potentially detrimental effect – particularly if they jump about within our DNA, potentially interfering with our genes. For this reason, our bodies employ methylation as a defence mechanism to suppress the activity of these retroelements.

“Methlyation is effective at controlling potentially harmful retroelements that might harm us, but if, as we’ve seen, methylation patterns are erased in our germ cells, we could potentially lose the first line of our defence,” says Professor Surani.

In fact, the researchers found that a notable fraction of the retroelements in our genome are ‘escapees’ and retain their methylation patterns – particularly those retroelements that have entered our genome in our more recent evolutionary history. This suggests that our body’s defence mechanism may be keeping some epigenetic information intact to protect us from potentially detrimental effects.

Tang, WWC et al. A unique gene regulatory network resets the human germline epigenome for development. Cell; 4 June 2015

– See more at:

‘Moral Identity’ Key to Charitable Time Giving

‘Moral identity’ key to charitable time giving


Charities want your time and not just your money: new study identifies factors that lessen ‘time aversion’ in charitable giving.

There is a strong connection between moral identity and the willingness to donate time

Eric Levy

Charities have long wrestled with the issue of persuading people to donate their time to worthy causes. Many potential time-givers donate money instead due to the perceived psychological costs of giving their time – which is by definition limited.

But new research co-authored at the University of Cambridge finds that ‘moral identity’ can overcome time aversion because it affirms and reinforces this identity, especially when the cost of giving time rises – and charities can use this key insight in recruiting people for time-giving tasks.

Significantly, the study found that charities can issue ‘moral cues’ that trigger such moral identity and make people more likely to donate their time to good causes – a key practical finding for the charitable sector. Defining ‘moral identity’ around a set of nine traits including kindness, caring and generosity, the study found that moral identity can be activated by showing people images of ‘moral exemplars’ such as Gandhi and Mother Teresa, and quotations focused on the same idea such as: “Wherever there is a human being, there is a chance for kindness.”

According to the study, a strong moral identity may reduce time aversion not despite the higher cost of giving time, but rather because of it. Put another way, giving time more strongly reinforces the moral self, compared to giving money, according to the researchers, who call time aversion a ‘socio-psychological malady.’

The study, entitled “I don’t want the money, I just want your time: how moral identity overcomes the aversion to giving time to pro-social causes”, has just been accepted for publication by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“The study has significant implications for how charities and other good causes recruit volunteers for time-giving tasks,” says co-author Eric Levy, of Cambridge Judge Business School. “We found that there is a strong connection between moral identity and the willingness to donate time.”

One key finding was that when the cost of giving time rises, people with a high moral identity may be more motivated to give their time, and those with a low moral identity are more averse to giving their time. Conversely, in low-cost situations, those with a high moral identity are less apt to give their time than are people with low moral identity.

This suggests that charities need to consider levels of ‘moral salience’ in their promotional material and other outreach to potential time-givers.

According to the study, if charities wish to recruit volunteers for low-time-cost tasks they may be better off targeting individuals whose moral identities occupy a less central role within their self-concept. Conversely, if they wish to recruit volunteers for tasks with a high time cost they may do well to target individuals whose moral identities occupy a more central role in their self-concept.

The research paper comprises four separate studies. The first finds that moral identity can make giving time appear less costly; the second and third find that a ‘moral cue’ reduces time aversion even in unpleasant situations (such as emptying dirty hospital bedpans) and when time appears to be scarce (by enhancing a perceived connection between the time-giver and the beneficiary of the time donation); the fourth accounts for the real costs of time, finding that the ‘chronic salience of moral identity’ especially lessens time aversion when giving time becomes increasingly costly.

The study was co-authored by Americus Reed II of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Adam Kay, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia; Stephanie Finnel, a marketing support services specialist at BAYADA Home Health Care; Karl Aquino of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia; and Eric Levy of University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Adapted from a Cambridge Judge Business School story.

– See more at:

Let’s Get Statted

Let’s get statted


With more information than ever at our fingertips, statisticians are vital to innumerable fields and industries. Welcome to the world of the datarati, where humans and machines team up to crunch the numbers.

It fills hard drives, but to extract value from it, we need methods that learn patterns in the data and allow us to make predictions and intelligent decisions

Zoubin Ghahramani

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians, and I’m not kidding,” Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google famously observed in 2009. It seems a difficult assertion to take seriously, but six years on, there is little question that their skills are at a premium.

Indeed, we may need statisticians now more than at any time in our history. Even compared with a decade ago, we can now gather, produce and consume unimaginably large quantities of information. As Varian predicted, statisticians who can crunch these numbers are all the rage. A new discipline, ‘Data Science’, which fuses statistics and computational work, has emerged.

“People are awash in data,” reflects Zoubin Ghahramani, Professor of Information Engineering at Cambridge. “This is occurring across industry, it’s changing society as we become more digitally connected, and it’s true of the sciences as well, where fields like biology and astronomy generate vast amounts of data.”

Over the past few years, Richard Samworth, Professor of Statistics, has watched the datarati step out from the shadows. “It’s probably fair to say that statistics didn’t have the world’s best PR for quite a long time,” he says. “Since this explosion in the amount of data that we can collect and store, opportunities have arisen to answer questions we previously had no hope of being able to address. These demand an awful lot of new statistical techniques.”

‘Big data’ is most obviously relevant to the sciences, where large volumes of information are gathered to answer questions in fields such as genetics, astronomy and particle physics, but it also has more familiar applications. Transport authorities gather data from electronic ticketing systems like Oyster cards to understand more about passenger movements; supermarkets closely monitor customer transactions to react to shoppers’ predilections. As users of social media, many of us disclose data about ourselves that is as valuable to marketing as it is relevant to psychoanalytics. Increasingly, we are also ‘lifeloggers’, monitoring our own behaviour, health, diet and fitness, through smart technology.

This information, as Ghahramani points out, is no use on its own: “It fills hard drives, but to extract value from it, we need methods that learn patterns in the data and allow us to make predictions and intelligent decisions.” This is what statisticians, computer scientists and machine learning specialists bring to the party – they build algorithms, which are coded as computer software, to see patterns. At root, the datarati are interpreters.

Despite their ‘sexy’ new image, however, not enough data scientists exist to meet this rocketing demand. Could some aspects of the interpretation be automated using artificial intelligence instead, Ghahramani wondered? And so, in 2014 and with funding from Google, the first incarnation of The Automatic Statistician was launched online. Despite minimal publicity, 3,000 users uploaded datasets to it within a few months.

Once fed a dataset, the Automatic Statistician assesses it against various statistical models, interprets the data and – uniquely – translates this interpretation into a short report of readable English. It does this without human intervention, drawing on an open-ended ‘grammar’ of statistical models. It is also deliberately conservative, only basing its assessments on sound statistical methodology, and even critiquing its own approach.

Ghahramani and his team are now refining the system to cope with the messy, incomplete nature of real-world data, and also plan to develop its base of knowledge and to offer interactive reports. In the longer term, they hope that the Automatic Statistician will learn from its own work: “The idea is that it will look at a new dataset and say, ‘Ah, I’ve seen this kind of thing before, so maybe I should check the model I used last time’,” he explains.

While automated systems rely on existing models, new algorithms are needed to extract useful information from evolving and expanding datasets. Here, the role of human statisticians is vital.

To characterise the problem, Samworth presents a then-and-now comparison. During the past century, a typical statistical problem might, for instance, have been to understand the relationship between the initial speed and stopping distance of cars based on a sample size of 50.

These days, however, we can record information on a huge number of variables at once – the weather, road surface, make of car, wind direction, and so on. Although the extra information has the potential to yield better models and reduce uncertainty, in many areas, the number of features measured is so high it may even exceed the number of observations. Identifying appropriate models in this context is a serious challenge, which requires the development of new algorithms.

To resolve this, statisticians rely on a principle called ‘sparsity’; the idea that only a few bits of the dataset are really important. The statistician identifies these needles in the haystack. Various algorithms have been developed to select the important variables, so that the initial sprawl of information starts to become manageable and patterns can be extracted.

Together with his colleague Dr Rajen Shah in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics, Samworth has developed a method for refining any such variable selection technique called ‘Complementary Pairs Stability Selection’. This applies the original method to random subsamples of the data instead of the whole, and does this over and over again. Eventually, the variables that appear on a high proportion of the subsamples emerge as those meriting further attention.

Scanning Google Scholar for citations of the paper in which this was proposed, Samworth finds that his algorithm has been used in numerous research projects. One looks at how to improve fundraising for disaster zones, another examines potential biomarkers for breast cancer survival, and a third identifies risk factors connected with childhood malnutrition.

How does he feel when he sees his work being applied so far and wide? “It’s funny,” he says. “My training is in mathematics and I still get a kick from proving a theorem, but it’s also rewarding to see people using your work. It’s often said that the good thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s back yard. I suppose this demonstrates why that’s true.”

Inset image: left to right, Zoubin Ghahramani and Richard Samworth

– See more at:

The Economic Roots of Independence Movements

The Economic Roots of Independence Movements


Ivan Rajic’s interest in the economic roots of independence movements is based on his personal experience of growing up in Belgrade.

“What caused the war in Yugoslavia was the domestic elites manipulating people into hating and fearing each other, combined with a very healthy dose of Western elites engaging in divide-and-conquer imperialism.”

Ivan Rajic

In 1999, NATO bombs rained down on Belgrade, hitting various targets including a TV centre just 300 metres from Ivan Rajic’s flat.

His mother lived in fear that a neighbouring newspaper office would be next on the list. His father, meanwhile, was documenting the situation in a daily diary for a Norwegian newspaper. The series of articles was later published as a book, which Ivan has recently translated into Serbo-Croat. The diary details his father’s views on a war which he believed had much more to do with conflicts between elite groups in Kosovo, Serbia and the West, than with ethnic hatred.

Ivan’s father, Ljubisa Rajic, died two years ago, but his ideas and influence helped shape Ivan’s political views and his interest in nominally nationalist struggles in Europe today. For his PhD at Cambridge he is focusing on how different levels of regional development within countries can form the basis for independence movements. He is looking in particular at the recent referendum on Scottish independence.

Ivan [2009], who was born in Belgrade, was brought up in a house full of politics and ideas. His father, who founded the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Belgrade, was always very politically active. He was a leading member of the Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative, one of the first democratic parties after the introduction of multi-party democracy in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s.

Although he became disillusioned by party politics by the mid-1990s, he remained an outspoken public intellectual. Ivan’s mother, a retired meteorologist, shared the same views as his father.

Ivan’s father was a leftist and an atheist,  who saw the Yugoslav wars as a conflict between elites, who used nationalism and religion to further their aims. Ivan was taught not to sing nationalist songs and he refused to cross himself on school trips to  monasteries or churches of cultural importance.

The conflict in the former Yugoslavia affected him in other ways too. During primary school a refugee from Sarajevo came to live with the family. She was from an ethnically mixed marriage, and her father, an ex-army officer, had been tortured.

Having a father who was a professor and public intellectual and being surrounded at home by around 7,000 mostly non-fiction books gave Ivan a significant advantage in his education at a time when the country’s education system was suffering from economic and political turbulence. Ivan applied to study economics at the University of Belgrade.

During his studies, he came across How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor by the Norwegian economist Erik Reinert. His father had brought him the Norwegian original on one of his trips to Norway.

The book was to prove very influential in his thinking on economics. “It was critical of two things. One is the flawed notion that economic development comes spontaneously from free markets. The other is the fact that one school of thought is dominant in economics – neoclassical economics – and that it has narrowed down economics to mathematical modelling,” says Ivan. He translated the book into Serbo-Croat soon after he got it.

Ivan finished his undergraduate course in 2009 after having already started to work as a junior economist in a think tank in Belgrade. He applied to continue his studies at Cambridge and started his MPhil in Development Studies in 2009, progressing to a PhD. For both he has received the support of a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

His first idea for his PhD was to explore some of the inefficiencies in the former Yugoslav economic system, the explanations for which he thought had been oversimplified by some as being down to the fact that it was not capitalist enough.

“If you grow up in any of the post-Yugoslav republics, you hear all the time how the economy was inefficient, how workers’ self-management was a stupid idea, how it was wrong to industrialise,” he says. “But, all that makes little sense. For starters, why is the IMF austerity programme imposed on Yugoslavia in the 1980s excluded from any analysis of Yugoslavia’s economic problems? You also hear all the time how the Yugoslav wars were about ethnicity and religion. But what caused the war was the domestic elites manipulating people into hating and fearing each other, combined with a very healthy dose of Western elites engaging in divide-and-conquer imperialism. So, you have two areas – politics and economics – that are, of course, connected, but severely misunderstood. I thought that perhaps if they were analysed in a better way, a real connection could be seen.”

Ivan’s supervisor suggested he focus on a more current topic. The Scottish referendum was just about to take place. He sees the roots of the latest move towards independence in Scotland as being economic and originating from the neoliberal slant that the UK has taken over the last several decades, which has heavily impacted most areas (Scotland included) outside of the South East.

“There are many parallels between Scotland and the UK, Catalonia and Spain, Quebec and Canada, Singapore and Malaysia, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and a host of other examples,” says Ivan. “In all those cases, the trail leads back to certain similarities in the political economy of the countries in question. We need to understand how and why such moves towards independence happen. Because, as a number of examples show, the country where I was born included, things can end up in a very, very bad way.”

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page. For image rights, please see the credits associated with each individual image.

– See more at:

Thinking Inside the Box

Thinking Inside the Box


New research into the phenomenon of design fixation – allowing prior experience to blind us to new possibilities – may help in the development of new tools and strategies that help to stimulate the creative process without inadvertently limiting it.

Fixation can stop the creative process cold: severely limiting the way in which we see a problem and the variety of solutions we explore

Nathan Crilly

It’s a common occurrence: when faced with a problem which is similar to one which has been faced before, most people will default to what worked in the past. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But while this approach often works, it can also limit thinking and prevent alternate, and possibly better, solutions from being considered. In psychology, this phenomenon of being ‘stuck in a rut’ or failing to ‘think outside the box’ is known as fixation, or the ‘Einstellung’ effect.

Fixation occurs in all sorts of settings, such as with the interpretations that scientists make of their data, the decisions that managers make in organisations, and in the diagnoses that physicians make. It’s is also an issue in design and engineering, where knowledge of earlier solutions can inadvertently narrow the range of answers that designers explore when responding to new problems.

Since the phenomenon of design fixation was first demonstrated in experiments over 30 years ago, researchers have worked to understand how it is influenced by the types of example solutions that designers are aware of, the design methods that they use and the interactions that they have with other team members.

“Whether designing a new toy, a new bridge, or a new piece of software, fixation can stop the creative process cold: severely limiting the way in which we see a problem and the variety of solutions we explore,” said Dr Nathan Crilly of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. “However, there is still a lack of in-depth research on fixation in the real-world settings that experimental research is meant to simulate. In particular, we have little knowledge of how fixation occurs in professional design projects that have conflicting objectives, long timescales and experienced team members.”

To address this gap in knowledge, Crilly recently conducted a qualitative study with designers working in innovation consultancies about their awareness of fixation and the strategies they use to overcome it. The study found that although various formal methods are used to promote creative thinking, reflecting on prior episodes of fixation is the most effective way of guarding against such episodes in the future. The analysis may help to build a framework for new strategies to combat design fixation – developing tools and training that help designers to avoid becoming fixated in future. The results are published in the journal Design Studies.

What causes fixation varies from person to person, and from project to project, but common factors include a commitment to initial ideas, project constraints that prevent exploration, and organisational cultures that give people ownership of their ideas, which gives them the incentive to defend them.

Common factors that prevent fixation include diverse teams, making and testing models and facilitation of the creative process by people who are familiar with fixation risks. However, experience can be a both a blessing and a curse when it comes to preventing fixation. As designers gain more experience, they learn how certain approaches succeed or fail, with the experience of failure particularly prominent in their minds. This accumulated knowledge can cause designers to become increasingly conservative, with experienced designers sticking to a restricted set of solutions that are known to work.

While experience of failure can lead to fixation, other forms of experience can help to prevent it. For example, by working on a variety of different projects, designers are exposed to the many ways in which any given problem can be solved. This experience of variety acts to remind designers that the current problem they are addressing must have multiple possible solutions too, even when they are seemingly stuck on one way of looking at it.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, as designers accumulate design experience, they also accumulate experience of fixation, either in themselves or in those they interact with. These episodes of blindness might only be recognised in retrospect, but by reflecting on them, designers can learn to recognise their biases and learn to resist them. Over time, designers become better at identifying the situations in which fixation is a risk and better at implementing countermeasures. For example, one of the participants described their own thought process as they work: “You always think your idea’s good, there’s psychology in that … And then you push other ideas to the side, mentally. … [But] the more projects you do then the more you … self-analyse.”

Despite their awareness of the risks of fixation and the steps they take to guard against it, designers also recognise that fixation is a difficult problem to control. In the creative process of developing new products, systems or services, designers must show commitment and persistence in the face of ambiguity and repeated setbacks. This makes it difficult to maintain the levels of openness and flexibility that are required to challenge previously accepted ideas or even ideas that are only just emerging.

This tension between persistence and openness is characteristic of many creative activities, whether in the sciences, the arts or in business. According to Crilly, to tackle this conflict it is important to gain a better understanding of the various creative behaviours that people exhibit and the barriers that block that behaviour.

“By understanding the nature of fixation, we’ll be able to develop the tools and techniques that effectively address it in the contexts where it occurs, and understand how these tools should be presented to the people who will use them,” said Crilly.

The research has been funded by the UK Physical Sciences & Research Council (EPSRC).

– See more at:

That’s Entertainment: What – and How – Will We Be Watching in 2020?

That’s Entertainment: What – and How – Will We Be Watching in 2020?


Take unlimited creativity, add multiple platforms, throw in faster and smarter tech and you’ve got the ingredients for the biggest entertainment industry shake-up since the introduction of sound.

All the boundaries between cinema, TV, DVD and online have become blurred

Allègre Hadida

The battle lines have been drawn: consumers have broken free of traditional formats and schedules, and we now want our content wherever and whenever it suits us. It’s the biggest disruption the entertainment industry has ever seen, driven by new technology. As Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Director of the MPhil in Management at Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS), Dr Allègre Hadida is always fascinated by what’s driving change. So she posed the question: just what will we be watching in 2020 – and what will we be watching it on?

Hadida identifies several shifts that have recently changed the way we consume audio-visual content: first, platform proliferation. “TVs have become almost obsolete in most homes,” she says. “Now we can watch on mobiles, tablets – and soon, probably, watches. This has reshuffled the chronology of media. All the boundaries between cinema, TV, DVD and online have become blurred.”

Then there are our new patterns of binge-watching, which is changing our relationships to episodic content. Take the second season of Netflix’s blockbuster House of Cards: when it became available, all at once 660,000 viewers chose to watch the entire season in the space of three days. They didn’t want to wait a week for a new episode. So Netflix ensured they didn’t have to. “Binge watching has been allowed by the availability of content online and on those mobile platforms,” Hadida points out. “But will it change the narrative structure we adopt when telling stories and the way we produce stories?”

And what of the many new platforms – Amazon Instant, Sony’s Crackle, Walmart’s Vudu – emerging to serve our insatiable desire for new stuff? “There’s an evolution in the value chain of media production,” says Hadida. “Content aggregators such as TV channels have a growing concern that they might be squeezed out of that value chain altogether, as we increasingly find our own content and watch it without their filters. There’s a growing trend of hitherto content distributors going into content production. By 2020, will Netflix still exist, for example? Will Amazon be the one-stop shop for everything content related?”

But it’s also easier for anyone with an idea and a bit of technical know-how to get their content in front of millions. Millennials now spend more time watching amateur YouTube content than they do at the cinema. The new YouTube superstars are beauty vloggers like Zoella or Minecraft movie maestro Stampy, building vast audiences with little more than a webcam and an eye for what works. The content providers know that the next generation of talent is incubating online, and that’s where they’re looking. But will this see a downturn in quality? “I see five-year-olds watching content on YouTube and getting bored if it lasts more than five minutes,” says Hadida. “We’re told quality content is key – we have HD quality – but if thousands of people are now watching very poorly filmed amateur videos, 50 times in a row, what happens to their perception of quality content then?”

So where next for filmed entertainment? How will its nature and format change over the next five years? Who will be the winners and losers? We asked three industry insiders for their insights into Hadida’s question.

Alex Gonzalez, formerly marketing co-ordinator for Disney’s international marketing department, is currently studying for an MBA at CJBS, specialising in culture, arts and media management.

Two major changes will drive what we watch. The first is data. Take Google and Netflix, two of the biggest data aggregators in the world. They know more about us than we know about ourselves, and they’re vying for our eyes to watch their content. So they’re creating content based on what they think we’ll like. House of Cards was created because Netflix looked at the actors and directors people liked. They liked Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. So why not put them together? That data-driven content creation means we’ll always have a show we’ll want to watch. But there’s a danger there: what about discovering new content? How do we get a show that we don’t know we want yet – like Breaking Bad? So finding new shows, that’s going to be a new problem to solve. We don’t want to watch the same shows week after week. We tell ourselves we do but I don’t think that’s what we really want.

And then there’s symmetry – in information, and in ability. To elaborate: there are a lot of stakeholders in the industry. You have a lot of agents who negotiate for the stars, you have unions who protect screenwriters and directors and so on. But now, there’s a lot of information coming out from behind the curtain – how to make a movie. How to finance a movie. Where to find talent. Now people are saying: if we know all this, what do we need agents for? And we also have this symmetry of ability. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made it possible for anyone to raise the money for a film, and get it out there themselves, getting a fan base – even if it’s just a seven-second Vine. People are thinking: hey, I can do that. Who wins? The consumer. You guys can just sit back and enjoy it.

Brett Granstaff (Cambridge MBA 2012) is an actor, writer, director and producer.

It’s predicted that by 2020, China will be the world’s biggest market for movies for viewership and box office, and will surpass the US. We’ll also be seeing more big data used to craft and create not just TV shows but also films. We’re already seeing this. A lot of films are using a lot of foreign locations and stars to increase their sales. Transformers: Age of Extinction was a massive hit in China and featured a lot of Chinese locations and Chinese stars like Li Bingbing. Look at Fast Five – it used Brazilian locations, and its South American box-office was huge. Hollywood’s been forced to wake up to the importance of foreign markets. To be honest, I didn’t use to care that much about them. That’s all changed.

You’re going to see a lot more day-and-date releases – where a film is simultaneously released in cinemas and other platforms. Amazon is going into theatrical distribution. They’re going to be releasing, they say, up to 12 films a year. Ten years ago, there was a six-month window between a film being released in the cinema and getting it on DVD. It’s been shortened and shortened. Now, with Amazon’s film, it’s going to be three weeks. A lot of the theatres are saying they won’t show Amazon movies because of that. They want their window. So there’s going to be a huge fight between the theatre owners and online distribution services.

Will people still be going to the movies? Sure. But the entire theatre atmosphere is going to change. You’re going to see a lot more luxury offerings in theatres. They’re popping up here a lot in LA right now. And they are pretty much all sold out at weekends. They’re charging a premium for services such as having certain showings where kids aren’t allowed. They serve alcohol. You get a full menu and waiter service. It’s high end. It’s all about the experience. People still want that social element that the movies provide.

Suranga Chandratillake (University of Cambridge, 2000) is a General Partner at Balderton Capital. He was previously an entrepreneur and engineer. Suranga founded blinkx, the intelligent search engine for video and audio content in Cambridge in 2004. He lead the company as CEO through its journey of moving to San Francisco, becoming profitable and going public in London where it achieved a peak market capitalisation in excess of $1bn.

To start with, what are we going to be watching this stuff on? I believe that by 2020, every single screen that we have access to will be a fully networked device that knows who you are. So whether it’s your watch, your computer laptop screen, your desk monitor, your TV, tablet or phone – they will all have a high-speed internet connection and be able to deliver TV and video content. And most importantly they’ll know who you are. There’s already talk of how Apple and Google are both looking at using front-facing cameras on phones to recognise who you are.

And because it will know who we are, it will know what we’re interested in – something that’s suddenly become available that we ought to know about, whether it’s personal – like a voice message from your mum – or whether it’s larger in concept – a TV show that you might like, a relevant event. So a pervasive video environment that is personalised and aware of the individual.

Gone will be the days of having different kinds of video experiences tethered to different devices. We’ll access anything, any way, based more on when we want to consume, when we have a free minute, rather than something we’re happy to be sat in front of. Thus far, video’s been very much controlled by this cycle of adverts and hours and half hour. I think that’s going away and I think we’re going to see the birth of some really exciting new formats. I think we’ll see a lot of experimentation around that kind of thing.

But it will be hard, I think, for the guys in the middle. There is still a lot of work to be done – facilitating payment systems, helping people discover new content, finding out what’s good and what’s not so good, curating content, bundling stuff that’s relevant together. That’s not all going to be done by computers. But the organisations that have traditionally done that for us, until now, are the TV networks, film studios and music labels, I’m not sure that they’re set up to do it in this new world. Some of them will figure it out and transform themselves. Others will cling on to the old models for too long. And still others, of course, will build entirely new, huge companies. That’s going to be the really interesting shift.

Originally published on the Cambridge Judge Business School website

– See more at:

Cyan receives Letter of Intent for US$3 million smart meter order in Western Africa

Cyan receives Letter of Intent for US$3 million smart meter order in Western Africa

Source: RNS

Cyan the integrated system and software design company delivering mesh based flexible wireless solutions for utility metering and lighting control, announces that it has received a letter of intent (“LOI”) from El Sewedy Electrometer Group EMG (“El Sewedy”) to supply Cyan’s CyLec(R) Advanced Metering Infrastructure (“AMI”) solution for a smart meter contract which El Sewedy has been awarded in Western Africa.

The LOI states that, subject to contract, El Sewedy intends to appoint Cyan to provide a full AMI solution for up to 200,000 consumers in batches over three years. If deployed in full the contract could be worth up to US$3 million to Cyan. Cyan will immediately start working towards signing a contractual order with El Sewedy for the 200,000 meters indicated, but the LOI is no guarantee of the terms or timing of any such order or if a contract will be signed.

The potential order is intended to include 865MHz RF AMI modules, 865 MHz RF In-Home Display (“IHD”) modules, Data Concentrator Units (“DCUs”), Head-End Server software licenses and a software maintenance contract. The Cyan AMI modules would be integrated into the El Sewedy electricity smart meters and the Cyan IHD modules would be integrated into El Sewedy’s IHD device. The resulting solution will provide a full bi-directional communication system from the IHD to the electricity smart meter and then through the Cyan communication network to the utility’s billing systems.

In a joint analysis that Cyan and El Sewedy prepared (and in addition to Aggregate Technical and Commercial losses) the West African utility could save over US$150M over a ten year period from the 200,000 meters by using the Cyan radio mesh communication network solution compared to a GPRS sim card based smart metering communication solution which was also evaluated. In their year-end 2012 financial report, the West African utility stated that they had over 2.5 million customers.

In July 2014, Cyan announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with El Sewedy Electrometer India Pvt Ltd (“El Sewedy India”) who are a wholly owned subsidiary of El Sewedy. The MOU was an agreement for El Sewedy India and Cyan to tender as part of a consortium for a number of smart metering projects in India and other target markets. Cyan and El Sewedy are also working on a number of other opportunities in India as well as other emerging markets around the globe where El Sewedy has existing facilities and utility customers.

John Cronin, Executive Chairman of Cyan, commented: “I am delighted to update shareholders on this significant LOI which has been signed by the El Sewedy Chairman following my meeting with him at the El Sewedy worldwide headquarters in Cairo last week. This is a substantial commercial opportunity for Cyan which also could accelerate entry into other key countries using El Sewedy as a channel to market to their existing and new customers.”

Sepura unveils the next generation hand-portable

Sepura unveils the next generation smart device, the SC2020
19th May 2015 – Sepura unveils the next generation hand-portable at the Critical Communications World Congress (CCW) in Barcelona.

The SC2020, the new revolutionary hand-portable by Sepura, is the first product built on the company’s future-proof next generation platform and the latest addition to its established, comprehensive and evolving portfolio. The SC2020 is the first of its kind, combining TETRA’s mission critical advanced performance with an optional second high speed data bearer: it is the first TETRA hand-portable which can claim to be LTE data ready. It features smarter menus, more intuitive operation and outstanding performance, even in the toughest environments and conditions.

Steve Barber, Head of Product Strategy for Sepura commented: “The timely launch of the SC2020 confirms our vision and plans for the future and demonstrates our ability to adapt to the fast-moving markets in which we operate. We continue to provide our global customer base with products that address their ever evolving communication needs and the operational challenges they face every day. The SC2020 is the undisputable proof that Sepura is going further in critical communications.”

The SC2020’s high resolution screen, the largest on the market today, is specifically designed to provide a richer user experience. The larger screen enables easier deployment of existing and future applications via high-speed data; it is also viewable in all light conditions, including direct sunlight.

The radio’s powerful 2W audio capability, enhanced by unique water-porting technology, allows for uncompromised audio clarity, even in continuous heavy rain. The SC2020 also boasts an IP67 environmental protection rating which means it is completely dustproof and submersible in water. Its design enables it to be rinsed, making it ideal for users from emergency services and commercial sectors, often operating in some of the most demanding environments. A new powerful Class 3 TETRA engine is paired with a new receiver that surpasses the ETSI specification, a unique combination extending operational range and stretching coverage into areas where it was not possible before.

Mark Barnby, Senior Product Manager for Sepura said: “The SC2020 is designed to meet the toughest communication challenges, now and in the future. It combines a high-speed data bearer capability with TETRA’s proven mission critical secure voice and data capabilities. Not only it is the most powerful and also the most sensitive TETRA engine we have ever designed, it can also uniquely exploit a high speed data network, such as WiFi or LTE”. Barnby concluded: “The SC2020 is more than a radio. Its powerful combination of impressive functionality and wealth of performance enhancing features, combined with Sepura’s market leading accessories, make it the solid choice today, and also in the future. The SC2020 is the most advanced product Sepura has ever brought to market.”

What research would enhance business sustainability?

What research would enhance business sustainability?


A new project led by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership is looking at how academic research can help make businesses more sustainable. Dr Jonathan Green, one of the project leads, is looking to the public to ask the questions that may form the basis of future research, and help businesses reduce their impact on the environment.

How can we meet future needs for food, energy and water without degrading our natural environment and putting companies out of business?

Jonathan Green

The natural world is already in peril, yet demand for water, food and energy are set to rise further as the global population grows and climate change takes hold. Increased demand for one of these will alter the availability of the others. Businesses sit at the heart of this ‘nexus’ of interactions, both depending on and impacting on the environment. What academic research could help make their operations more sustainable?

Working with leading researchers from the Departments of Geography and Zoology, the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) Nexus2020 project is bringing together ideas from the 6,000 alumni of our executive education programmes, business people, academics, policy-makers and members of the general public.

The project is part of the Nexus Network, an extensive network coordinated by CISL, the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia, and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council. With its considerable outreach across business, academia and government, CISL encourages conversation and stimulates the research that is most helpful to companies.

We want to know what you think are the most important questions around business practice that, if answered by 2020, could help companies manage their dependencies and impacts upon food, energy, water and the environment.

How can we meet future needs for food, energy and water without degrading our natural environment and putting companies out of business? Can we meet increasing demand for energy without making climate change worse? How do we produce enough food and energy with less water? These are the types of questions we are looking for.

In September, we will bring together leading members of the academic and business communities to rank the submissions and identify the most important questions for research. We’ll present these at the Nexus Network annual conference in November, by which point research will be underway.

The process of gathering questions and prioritising research needs is not new: Cambridge’s Bill Sutherland identified the 100 ecological questions of high policy relevance in the UK in 2006. More recently a project led by Jules Pretty looked at the top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture, and Lynn Dicks has replicated this process to look at the conservation of wild insect pollinators and the UK food system. These ranking exercises are extremely valuable and have had consequences for high-level policy, including Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy. These approaches also encouraged scientists to come together to develop workshops and led to the identification of initial priorities for programmes such as the UK’s Global Food Security Research Programme.

With the UN’s 2014 report highlighting that one-fifth of the world’s aquifers are being overexploited, how do ensure that corporate actions are alleviating water-related stresses? How do we communicate the urgency of sustainable farming methods when 10 million hectares of arable land are being eroded or degraded every year?

Whether your question is around policy, business education, rights, science, finance, or best practice, take part in this project – we want to know what you think.

– See more at:

Abcodia Secures £5.25 Million to Launch New Ovarian Cancer Test



abcodia biobank testtubesThe first cancer test based on a unique serum biobank that took samples from over 202,00 women over 10 years is set to launch following a £5.25 million fundraising round by Abcodia, the company with exclusive rights to the biobank.

The ROCA test will also be the first product to come out of Abcodia who is calling it the world’s most sensitive and specific ovarian cancer screening test.

Chief Executive of the Cambridge business, Dr Julie Barnes, said the funding would allow Abcodia to launch its ROCA test in the UK this summer and US markets later in 2015.

“This is the first cancer screening test that we are bringing to market and we are excited about its proven high performance,” said Barnes. “We feel passionately that the ROCA test will make a real difference in the lives of women at risk of developing this aggressive form of cancer. The funding will help build operations and commercial teams in the UK and establish our US presence while continuing to grow our product pipeline focused on improving early cancer diagnosis.”

The financing was co-led by Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC) and Scottish Equity Partners (SEP), who join existing investors Albion Ventures and UCL Business. Dr Robert Tansley, from CIC and Jan Rutherford, from SEP have been appointed to Abcodia’s Board.

Dr Robert Tansley, Investment Director at CIC, said: “The major unmet need in early detection of ovarian cancer and the unprecedented clinical validation behind the ROCA test provided a compelling body of evidence for CIC’s investment. We are excited to support this groundbreaking test and bring it to the market so women around the world can feel empowered with more knowledge and more options.”

The ROCA test’s proven performance was reaffirmed in a study from the United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening(UKCTOCS) trial at UCL, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology this month. The publication showed the ROCA test could detect ovarian cancer more accurately than existing methods and before symptoms occur.

Between 2001 and 2005 over 202,600 women volunteers were enrolled into the UKCTOCS. Volunteers donated a serum sample on trial entry and 50,000 women have continued to donate serum annually for up to 10 years. Abcodia has the exclusive commercial rights to this biobank. The serum is collected to a rigorous protocol and is stored in liquid nitrogen at a commercial biobanking facility. In addition to the samples, each volunteer has also provided information about demographics, lifestyle, and disease history and morphology.

Jan Rutherford, partner at SEP, said: “Abcodia is one of the most exciting businesses involved in the early detection of cancer. Its novel data driven approach, underpinned by its unique biobank and its strategic partnership with Cancer Research UK, has the potential to materially enhance the way biomarkers are developed, allowing earlier disease diagnosis and improved patient outcomes.

“We are delighted to invest in such an innovative company and look forward to the launch of the ROCA test, initially through a number of private clinics in the UK this summer.”

Seasonal immunity: Activity of thousands of genes differs from winter to summer

Seasonal immunity: Activity of thousands of genes differs from winter to summer

Changing of the seasons

Our immune systems vary with the seasons, according to a study led by the University of Cambridge that could help explain why certain conditions such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis are aggravated in winter whilst people tend to be healthier in the summer.

In some ways, it’s obvious – it helps explain why so many diseases are much worse in the winter months – but no one had appreciated the extent to which this actually occurred

John Todd

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, shows that the activity of almost a quarter of our genes (5,136 out of 22,822 genes tested) differs according to the time of year, with some more active in winter and others more active in summer. This seasonality also affects our immune cells and the composition of our blood and adipose tissue (fat).

Scientists have known for some time that various diseases, including cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, and psychiatric disorders, display seasonal variation, as does vitamin D metabolism. However, this is the first time that researchers have shown that this may be down to seasonal changes in how our immune systems function.

“This is a really surprising – and serendipitous – discovery as it relates to how we identify and characterise the effects of the susceptibility genes for type 1 diabetes,” says Professor John Todd, Director of the JDRF/Wellcome Trust Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory. “In some ways, it’s obvious – it helps explain why so many diseases, from heart disease to mental illness, are much worse in the winter months – but no one had appreciated the extent to which this actually occurred. The implications for how we treat disease like type 1 diabetes, and even how we plan our research studies, could be profound.”

An international team, led by researchers from the JDRF/Wellcome Trust Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory in the Department of Medical Genetics, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, examined samples from over 16,000 people living in both the northern and southern hemispheres, in countries including the UK, USA, Iceland, Australia and The Gambia. These samples included a mixture of blood samples and adipose tissue.

The researchers used a variety of techniques to study the samples, including looking at the cell types found in the blood and measuring the level of expression of the individuals’ genes – a gene is said to be ‘expressed’ when it is active in a particular cell or tissue, usually involving the generation of proteins. They found that the thousands of genes were expressed differently in blood and adipose tissue depending on what time of year the samples were taken. Similarly, they identified seasonal differences in the types of cells found in the blood.

Seasonal differences were present across mixed populations in geographically and ethnically diverse locations – but the seasonal genes displayed opposing patterns in the northern and southern hemispheres. However, the pattern of seasonal activity was not reflected as strongly in Icelandic donors. The researchers speculate that this may be due to the near-24 hour daylight during summer and near-24 hour darkness in winter.

One gene of particular interest was ARNTL, which was more active in the summer and less active in the winter. Previous studies have shown that, in mice at least, the gene suppresses inflammation, the body’s response to infection; if the gene has the same function in humans, then levels of inflammation will be higher during winter in the northern hemisphere. Inflammation is a risk factor for a range of diseases and hence in winter, those at greatest risk will likely reach the ‘threshold’ at which the disease becomes a problem much sooner. Drugs that target the mechanisms behind inflammation could offer a way of helping treat these diseases more effectively during the winter periods.

A particularly surprising finding was that a set of genes associated to an individual’s response to vaccination was more active in winter, suggesting that some vaccination programmes might be more effective if carried out during winter months when the immune system is already ‘primed’ to respond.

During European and Australian winters, they argue, the thresholds required to trigger an immune response may be lower as a direct consequence of our coevolution with infectious organisms, which tend to be more prevalent during winter. Interestingly, people from The Gambia showed distinct seasonal variation in the numbers of immune cells in the blood that correlated with the rainy season (June-October), during which time infectious diseases, particularly mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, are more rife.

“We know that humans adapt to changing environments,” says Dr Chris Wallace. “Our paper suggests that human immune systems adapt to show different seasonal variation in equatorial regions with fewer distinct seasons compared to regions at higher and lower latitudes with more pronounced differences between winter and summer.”

It is not clear yet what mechanism maintains the seasonal variation seen in the immune system, though it may be due to environmental cues such as daylight and ambient temperature. Our internal body clock – known as our circadian rhythm – is in part coordinated by changes in daylight, which explains why people in jobs that do not fit with the daily cycle, such as factory shift workers or crews on long haul flights, can be affected by poorer health.

Professor Todd adds: “Given that our immune systems appear to put us at greater risk of disease related to excessive inflammation in colder, darker months, and given the benefits we already understand from vitamin D, it is perhaps understandable that people want to head off for some ‘winter sun’ to improve their health and well-being.”

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Mike Turner, Head of Infection and Immunobiology at the Wellcome Trust said: “This is an excellent study which provides real evidence supporting the popular belief that we tend to be healthier in the summer. Seasonal variation to this extent is a fascinating find – the activity of many of our genes, as well as the composition of our blood and fat tissue, varies depending on the seasons. Although we are still unclear of the mechanism that governs this variation, one possible outcome is that treatment for certain diseases could be more effective if tailored to the seasons.”

Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF in the UK, said: “We have long known there are more diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in winter. This study begins to reveal why. It identifies a biological mechanism we didn’t previously know of, which leaves the body seasonally more prone to the autoimmune attack seen in type 1 diabetes.

“While we all love winter sun, flying south for the whole of each winter isn’t something anyone can practically recommend as a way of preventing type 1 diabetes. But this new insight does open new avenues of research that could help untangle the complex web of genetic and environmental factors behind a diagnosis.”

Dopico, XC et al. Widespread seasonal gene expression reveals annual differences in human immunity and physiology. Nature Communications; 12 May 2015.

– See more at: