skip to content

Centre of African Studies

 
Subscribe to University News feed
Updated: 48 min 22 sec ago

Most young people’s well-being falls sharply in first years of secondary school

Wed, 23/11/2022 - 09:10

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

Academics from the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester analysed the well-being and self-esteem of more than 11,000 young people from across the UK, using data collected when they were 11, and again when they were 14. The adolescents’ overall ‘subjective well-being’ – their satisfaction with different aspects of life (such as friends, school and family) – dropped significantly during the intervening years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Yes

The Mystery of Darwin's Stolen Notebooks - Cambridge University Library Podcast

Mon, 21/11/2022 - 11:28

Darwin’s tiny, priceless Tree of Life sketch is arguably the most iconic drawing in the history of science. In this first podcast from one of the world’s great libraries, you’ll find out about the notebooks’ great importance, the endlessly curious life and letters of Charles Darwin, and the end of a nearly 50-year mega project to transcribe and publish 15,000 letters to and from Darwin – making them freely available to us all.


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

Yes

The future of aviation: how will we fly to COP in 2035?

Fri, 18/11/2022 - 09:33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from an article from the Aviation Impact Accelerator

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

The future of sustainable aviation is likely to require a huge amount of energy... This presents an opportunity for all countries, especially developing ones, to participate in the future of sustainable aviationSamuel Gabra How will we fly to COP in 2035? dmncwndrlchAeroplane flying


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

Yes

Cambridge engagement with banks wins Green Gown Award

Thu, 17/11/2022 - 12:04

Cambridge, Jesus and Trinity were leading participants in efforts of the Responsible Investment Network – Universities (RINU) to focus engagement on persuading banks to stop financing companies that continue to build new fossil fuel infrastructure.

“Banks have a key role to play in the energy transition," University of Cambridge Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers said. "Our historic relationship with major banks, combined with our academic expertise, puts the University of Cambridge in a strong position to influence finance towards net zero goals. This award will help us share this approach with other institutions.” 

The University and the two colleges helped a global bank include methane emissions in its methodology, and to report on absolute emissions for the first time.

They also persuaded a second global bank to commit to phasing down their financing of the fossil fuel industry on a timeline consistent with the UN goal to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to update oil, gas and coal policies by the end of 2022.

“Our engagement with HSBC and other banks, including through the activities of the Trinity Responsible Investment Society, has shown how influential networks can be in accelerating the energy transition, especially when communicating expectations both as shareholders and clients,” Trinity College Investment and Sustainability Officer Romane Thomas said.

Jesus College Bursar Dr Richard Anthony said the award was a significant achievement, which shows how working in partnership to effect change can deliver on a scale that is much bigger than the College.

"We must all work together as we face the real and immediate challenge of climate change," Anthony said.

Green Gown judges were incredibly impressed with the quality of the Collegiate Cambridge initiative, calling it “innovative” and “sector-changing”.

“This initiative is leading the way and we cannot wait to see the change they create using money for good,” the judges said. 

Green Gown Awards are awarded by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), an alliance for sustainability leadership in education with more than 300 member institutions in the Further and Higher Education sector of the UK and Ireland.

The University of Cambridge, alongside Trinity and Jesus Colleges, shared a prestigious 2022 Green Gown Award in the Money for Good category for effective engagement with the banking sector on climate finance.

Our historic relationship with major banks, combined with our academic expertise, puts the University of Cambridge in a strong position to influence finance towards net zero goalsAnthony Odgers, Chief Financial Officer


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

Yes

Cambridge Dictionary names 'homer' Word of the Year 2022

Thu, 17/11/2022 - 10:04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English speakers continue to be divided over differences between English language varietiesWendalyn NicholsKeith Johnston from PixabayA home run in a baseball game


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

YesLicence type: Attribution

COP must reverse rising pessimism over building sector decarbonisation, new study argues

Thu, 17/11/2022 - 09:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

To build for tomorrow fairly, global climate action has to incorporate and empower diverse public voicesRamit DebnathBrian (Ziggy) Liloi. CC license via FlikrPeople installing a living roof in 2012


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

YesLicence type: Attribution-Noncommerical

Mums’ activity levels may depend on number and ages of children

Wed, 16/11/2022 - 19:00

Physical activity – particularly when it is moderate to vigorous – has many health benefits, decreasing the risk of a wide range of diseases from cancer to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as helping maintain a healthy weight and better mental health.

Evidence suggests physical activity can help parents cope with the daily challenges of being a parent and strengthen relationships with children if they are active together. However, parents tend to be less active than non-parents.

To examine how family composition affected the amount of physical activity mothers engaged in, researchers at the University of Cambridge and University of Southampton analysed data from 848 women who participated in the UK Southampton Women’s Survey.  The women, aged 20-34 years, were recruited between 1998 and 2002 and followed up over subsequent years. They were given accelerometers to assess their levels of activity. The results are published today in PLOS ONE.

Women with school-aged children did on average around 26 mins* of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, whereas mothers with only younger children (aged four years or under) managed around 18 mins* per day.

Having more than one child meant mothers managed only around 21 mins* of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, but interestingly, mums with multiple children all under five years old did more light intensity activity than those with children of school-age.

Less than 50% of mothers met the recommended levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (150 minutes per week), regardless of the ages of their children.

Dr Kathryn Hesketh from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge said: “When you have small children, your parental responsibilities can be all-consuming, and it’s often hard to find the time to be active outside of time spent caring for your children. Exercise is often therefore one of the first things to fall by the wayside, and so most of the physical activity mums manage to do seems to be of a lower intensity.

“However, when children go to school, mums manage to do more physical activity. There are a number of possible reasons why this might be the case, including more opportunities to take part in higher intensity activities with their children; you may return to active commuting; or feel more comfortable using time to be active alone.”

Rachel Simpson, a PhD student in the MRC Epidemiology Unit, added: “There are clear benefits, both short term and long term, from doing more physical activity, particularly if it increases your heart rate. But the demands of being a mother can make it hard to find the time. We need to consider ways not only to encourage mums, but to make it as easy as possible for busy mums, especially those with younger children, to increase the amount of higher intensity physical activity they do.”

Professor Keith Godfrey from the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre and the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre said: “It is perhaps not unexpected that mothers who have young children or several children engage in less intense physical activity, but this is the first study that has quantified the significance of this reduction. More needs to be done by local government planners and leisure facility providers to support mothers in engaging in physical activity.”

*Note: these are mean averages

Reference
Simpson, RF et al. The association between number and ages of children and the physical activity of mothers: cross-sectional analyses from the Southampton Women’s Survey. PLOS ONE; 16 Nov 2022; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276964

Less than half of mums meet the recommended levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity – and mothers of younger children manage to do the least, Cambridge and Southampton researchers have found.

When you have small children, your parental responsibilities can be all-consuming, and it’s often hard to find the time to be active outside of time spent caring for your childrenKathryn Heskethtriloks (Getty Images)Family playing frisbee


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

Yes

Synthetic biology meets medicine: ‘programmable molecular scissors’ could help fight COVID-19 infection

Wed, 16/11/2022 - 10:00

Enzymes are naturally occurring biological catalysts, which enable the chemical transformations required for our bodies to function – from translating the genetic code into proteins, right through to digesting food. Although most enzymes are proteins, some of these crucial reactions are catalysed by RNA, a chemical cousin of DNA, which can fold into enzymes known as ribozymes. Some classes of ribozyme are able to target specific sequences in other RNA molecules and cut them precisely.

In 2014, Dr Alex Taylor and colleagues discovered that artificial genetic material known as XNA – in other words, synthetic chemical alternatives to RNA and DNA not found in nature – could be used to create the world’s first fully-artificial enzymes, which Taylor named XNAzymes.

At the beginning, XNAzymes were inefficient, requiring unrealistic laboratory conditions to function. Earlier this year, however, his lab reported a new generation of XNAzymes, engineered to be much more stable and efficient under conditions inside cells. These artificial enzymes can cut long, complex RNA molecules and are so precise that if the target sequence differs by just a single nucleotide (the basic structural unit of RNA), they will recognise not to cut it. This means they can be programmed to attack mutated RNAs involved in cancer or other diseases, leaving normal RNA molecules well alone.

Now, in research published today in Nature Communications, Taylor and his team at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease (CITIID), University of Cambridge, report how they have used this technology to successfully ‘kill’ live SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Taylor, a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Affiliated Researcher at St John’s College, Cambridge, said: “Put simply, XNAzymes are molecular scissors which recognise a particular sequence in the RNA, then chop it up. As soon as scientists published the RNA sequence of SARS-CoV-2, we started scanning through looking for sequences for our XNAzymes to attack.”

While these artificial enzymes can be programmed to recognise specific RNA sequences, the catalytic core of the XNAzyme – the machinery that operates the ‘scissors’ – does not change. This means that creating new XNAzymes can be done in far less time than it normally takes to develop antiviral drugs.

As Taylor explained: “It’s like having a pair of scissors where the overall design remains the same, but you can change the blades or handles depending on the material you want to cut. The power of this approach is that, even working by myself in the lab at the start of the pandemic, I was able to generate and screen a handful of these XNAzymes in a matter of days.”

Taylor then teamed up with Dr Nicholas Matheson to show that his XNAzymes were active against live SARS-CoV-2 virus, taking advantage of CITIID’s state-of-the-art Containment Level 3 Laboratory – the largest academic facility for studying high risk biological agents like SARS-CoV-2 in the country.

“It's really encouraging that for the first time – and this has been a big goal of the field – we actually have them working as enzymes inside cells, and inhibiting replication of live virus,” said Dr Pehuén Pereyra Gerber, who performed the experiments on SARS-CoV-2 in Matheson’s lab.

“What we’ve shown is proof of principle, and it’s still early days,” added Matheson, “It’s worth remembering, however, that the amazingly successful Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are themselves based on synthetic RNA molecules – so it’s a really exciting and rapidly developing field, with enormous potential.”

Taylor checked the target viral sequences against databases of human RNAs to ensure they were not present in our own RNA. Because the XNAzymes are highly specific, this should in theory prevent some of the ‘off-target’ side-effects that similar, less accurate molecular therapeutics may cause, such as liver toxicity.

SARS-CoV-2 has the ability to evolve and change its genetic code, leading to new variants against which vaccines are less effective. To get around this problem, Taylor not only targeted regions of the viral RNA that mutate less frequently, but he also designed three of the XNAzymes to self-assemble into a ‘nanostructure’ that cuts different parts of the virus genome.

“We’re targeting multiple sequences, so for the virus to evade the therapy it would have to mutate at several sites at once,” he said. “In principle, you could combine lots of these XNAzymes together into a cocktail. But even if a new variant does appear that is capable of getting round this, because we already have the catalytic core, we can rapidly make new enzymes to keep ahead of it.”

XNAzymes could potentially be administered as drugs to protect people exposed to COVID-19, to prevent the virus taking hold, or to treat patients with infection, helping rid the body of the virus. This sort of approach might be particularly important for patients who, because of a weakened immune system, struggle to clear the virus on their own.

The next step for Taylor and his team is to make XNAzymes that are even more specific and robust – “bulletproof,” he says – allowing them to remain in the body for longer, and work as even more effective catalysts, in smaller doses.

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council, NHS Blood and Transplant, and Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust.

Reference
Pereyra Gerber, P., Donde, M.J., Matheson, N.J. and Taylor, A.I. XNAzymes targeting the SARS-CoV-2 genome inhibit viral infection. Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-34339-w

Cambridge scientists have used synthetic biology to create artificial enzymes programmed to target the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2 and destroy the virus, an approach that could be used to develop a new generation of antiviral drugs.

XNAzymes are molecular scissors which recognise a particular sequence in the RNA, then chop it upAlex TaylorJordan Siemens (Getty Images)A 3d animation of the COVID-19 Virus or Coronavirus being broken apart


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

Yes

Slow-moving shell of water can make Parkinson’s proteins ‘stickier’

Tue, 15/11/2022 - 14:32

When attempting to discover potential treatments for protein misfolding diseases, researchers have primarily focused on the structure of the proteins themselves. However, researchers led by the University of Cambridge have shown that a thin shell of water is key to whether a protein begins to clump together, or aggregate, forming the toxic clusters which eventually kill brain cells.

Using a technique known as Terahertz spectroscopy, the researchers have shown that the movement of the water-based shell surrounding a protein can determine whether that protein aggregates or not. When the shell moves slowly, proteins are more likely to aggregate, and when the shell moves quickly, proteins are less likely to aggregate. The rate of movement of the shell is altered in the presence of certain ions, such as salt molecules, which are commonly used in the buffer solutions used to test new drug candidates.

The significance of the water shell, known as the hydration or solvation shell, in the folding and function of proteins has been strongly disputed in the past. This is the first time the solvation shell has been shown to play a key role in protein misfolding and aggregation, which could have profound implications in the search for treatments. The results are reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie International.

When developing potential treatments for protein misfolding diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have been studying compounds which can prevent the aggregation of key proteins: alpha-synuclein for Parkinson’s disease or amyloid-beta for Alzheimer’s disease. To date however, there are no effective treatments for either condition, which affect millions worldwide.

“It’s the amino acids that determine the final structure of a protein, but when it comes to aggregation, the role of the solvation shell, which sits on the outside of a protein, has been overlooked until now,” said Professor Gabriele Kaminski Schierle from Cambridge’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who led the research. “We wanted to know whether this water shell plays a role in protein behaviour – it’s been a question in the field for a while, but no one has been able to prove it.”

The solvation shell slides around on the surface of the protein, acting like a lubricant. “We wondered whether, if the movement of water molecules was slower in the solvation shell of a protein, it could slow the movement of the protein itself,” said Dr Amberley Stephens, the paper’s first author.

To test the role of the solvation shell in the aggregation of proteins, the researchers used alpha-synuclein, the key protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Using Teraheartz spectroscopy, a powerful technique to study the behaviour of water molecules, they were able to observe the movement of the water molecules that surround the alpha-synuclein protein.

They then added two different salts in solution to the proteins: sodium chloride (NaCl), or regular table salt, and cesium iodide (CsI). The ions in the sodium chloride – Na+ and Cl- – bind strongly to the hydrogen and oxygen ions in water, while the ions in the cesium iodide make much weaker bonds.

The researchers found that when the sodium chloride was added, the strong hydrogen bonds caused the movement of the water molecules in the solvation shell to slow down. This resulted in slower movement of the alpha-synuclein, and the aggregation rate increased. Conversely, when the cesium iodide was added, the water molecules sped up, and the aggregation rate decreased.

“In essence, when the water shell slows down, the proteins have more time to interact with each other, so they’re more likely to aggregate,” said Kaminski Schierle. “And on the flip side, when the solvation shell moves more quickly, the proteins become harder to catch, so they’re less likely to aggregate.”

“When researchers are screening for an aggregation inhibitor for Parkinson’s disease, they will usually use a buffer composition, but there’s been very little thought on how that buffer is interacting with the protein itself,” said Stephens. “Our results show that you need to understand the composition of the solvent inside the cell in order to mimic the conditions you have in the brain and ultimately end up with an inhibitor that works.”

“It’s so important to look at the whole picture, and that hasn’t been happening,” said Kaminski Schierle. “To effectively test whether a drug candidate will work in a patient, you need to mimic cellular conditions, which means you need to take everything into consideration, like salts and pH levels. The failure to look at the whole cellular environment has been limiting the field, which may be why we haven’t yet got an effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease.”

The research was supported in part by Wellcome, Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Michael J Fox Foundation, and the Medical Research Council (MRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Gabriele Kaminski Schierle is a Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge.

 

Reference:
Amberley D. Stephens et al. ‘Decreased Water Mobility Contributes to Increased α-Synuclein Aggregation.’ Angewandte Chemie International (2022). DOI: 10.1002/anie.202212063

Water – which makes up the majority of every cell in the body – plays a key role in how proteins, including those associated with Parkinson’s disease, fold, misfold, or clump together, according to a new study.

The failure to look at the whole cellular environment has been limiting the field, which may be why we haven’t yet got an effective treatment for Parkinson’s diseaseGabriele Kaminski SchierleSherbrooke Connectivity Imaging Lab via GettyCorpus callosum, left-right connections, in a Parkinson's brain


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

Yes

Feeling poorer than your friends in early adolescence is associated with worse mental health

Tue, 15/11/2022 - 09:08

Young people who believe they come from poorer backgrounds than their friends are more likely to have lower self-esteem and be victims of bullying than those who feel financially equal to the rest of their peer group, according to a new study from psychologists at the University of Cambridge.

The team also found that those who think themselves poorer and those who believe they are richer were both more likely to perpetrate bullying. Overall, feeling a sense of economic equality among your friends had the best outcomes for mental health and social behaviour.    

While economic disadvantage on a society-wide spectrum has long been linked to mental health and social problems in young people, the new study is one of the first to show that just feeling poorer compared to those in your immediate social sphere may be related to negative psychological outcomes.    

According to researchers, judgments we make about ourselves via “social comparison” in early adolescence – how popular or attractive we think we are, compared to others – are central to our burgeoning sense of self, and perceived economic status may contribute to this development.     

“Adolescence is an age of transitions, when we use social comparisons to make self-judgments and develop our sense of self,” said study lead author Blanca Piera Pi-Sunyer, a Cambridge Gates Scholar and PhD candidate in the University’s Department of Psychology. 

“A sense of our economic position not just in wider society, but in our immediate environment, might be problematic for our sense of belonging,” said Piera Pi-Sunyer. “Belonging is particularly important for well-being and psychosocial functioning during adolescence.”

“Our research suggests that wealth comparisons with those around us might contribute to a sense of social and personal self-worth when we are young.”

The latest study, published today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, was co-led by Piera Pi-Sunyer and Dr Jack Andrews of the University of New South Wales, as part of a research project conducted by Cambridge psychologist Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. 

The researchers analysed perceived economic inequality within friendship groups among 12,995 children in the UK at age 11.

Eleven-year-olds who believed themselves poorer than their friends scored 6-8% lower for self-esteem, and 11% lower in terms of wellbeing, than those who saw themselves as economically equal to friends.   

Those who considered themselves less wealthy were also more likely to have “internalising difficulties” such as anxiety, as well as behavioural problems e.g. anger issues or hyperactivity.

Adolescents who see themselves as poorer than their friends were 17% more likely to report being bullied or picked on compared to those who feel financially the same as friends at age 11.

While reported levels of victimisation fell across the board by the time young people reached 14 years old, those who considered themselves poorer were still 8% more likely to be victimised than those who felt economically similar to friends.   

Feeling both richer or poorer than peers was related to 3-5% higher rates of actually perpetrating bullying. “It may be that feeling different in any way at a time when belonging is important increases the risk of interpersonal difficulties such as bullying,” said Piera Pi-Sunyer.  

Part of Piera Pi-Sunyer’s PhD research looks at the cognitive processes behind how we view ourselves. This includes how memorising and internalising self-judgements in our earlier years can guide how we come to think of ourselves – sometimes known as “self-schema”.  

“Negative judgments about ourselves can bias us to pay attention to information that reinforces a lack of self-worth, which has implications for mental health. We see this may well include economic perceptions among some of our peer and friendship groups during adolescence,” said Piera Pi-Sunyer.    

The researchers used data collected as part of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), conducted with thousands of young people born between the years 2000 and 2002. The surveys gauged an array of mental states and social behaviours, and included questions on perceived economic status.

The majority of children felt they were as wealthy as their friends, but 4% and 8% perceived themselves as poorer or richer, respectively, than their friends (16% said they didn’t know).

The MCS also gathered data on “objective family income”, including a measure of weekly family disposable income, allowing researchers to discount the effects of actual parental wealth.

“Many studies suggest that, objectively, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have more mental health difficulties. Our findings show that the subjective experience of disadvantage is also relevant,” added Piera Pi-Sunyer.

“You do not have to be rich or poor to feel richer or poorer than your friends, and we can see this affects the mental health of young adolescents.”

How rich or poor young people think they are compared to their friendship group is linked to wellbeing and even bullying during the shift between childhood and teenage years.

Belonging is particularly important for well-being and psychosocial functioning during adolescenceBlanca Piera Pi-SunyerGetty ImagesSchool children in Great Yarmouth sitting in the cloakroom


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

Yes

Study of ‘polluted’ white dwarfs finds that stars and planets grow together

Mon, 14/11/2022 - 15:52

A study of some of the oldest stars in the Universe suggests that the building blocks of planets like Jupiter and Saturn begin to form while a young star is growing. It had been thought that planets only form once a star has reached its final size, but new results, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, suggest that stars and planets ‘grow up’ together.

The research, led by the University of Cambridge, changes our understanding of how planetary systems, including our own Solar System, formed, potentially solving a major puzzle in astronomy.

“We have a pretty good idea of how planets form, but one outstanding question we’ve had is when they form: does planet formation start early, when the parent star is still growing, or millions of years later?” said Dr Amy Bonsor from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, the study’s first author.

To attempt to answer this question, Bonsor and her colleagues studied the atmospheres of white dwarf stars – the ancient, faint remnants of stars like our Sun – to investigate the building blocks of planet formation. The study also involved researchers from the University of Oxford, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, the University of Groningen and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen.

“Some white dwarfs are amazing laboratories, because their thin atmospheres are almost like celestial graveyards,” said Bonsor.

Normally, the interiors of planets are out of reach of telescopes. But a special class of white dwarfs – known as ‘polluted’ systems – have heavy elements such as magnesium, iron, and calcium in their normally clean atmospheres.

These elements must have come from small bodies like asteroids left over from planet formation, which crashed into the white dwarfs and burned up in their atmospheres. As a result, spectroscopic observations of polluted white dwarfs can probe the interiors of those torn-apart asteroids, giving astronomers direct insight into the conditions in which they formed.

Planet formation is believed to begin in a protoplanetary disc – made primarily of hydrogen, helium, and tiny particles of ices and dust – orbiting a young star. According to the current leading theory on how planets form, the dust particles stick to each other, eventually forming larger and larger solid bodies. Some of these larger bodies will continue to accrete, becoming planets, and some remain as asteroids, like those that crashed into the white dwarfs in the current study.

The researchers analysed spectroscopic observations from the atmospheres of 200 polluted white dwarfs from nearby galaxies. According to their analysis, the mixture of elements seen in the atmospheres of these white dwarfs can only be explained if many of the original asteroids had once melted, which caused heavy iron to sink to the core while the lighter elements floated on the surface. This process, known as differentiation, is what caused the Earth to have an iron-rich core.

“The cause of the melting can only be attributed to very short-lived radioactive elements, which existed in the earliest stages of the planetary system but decay away in just a million years,” said Bonsor. “In other words, if these asteroids were melted by something which only exists for a very brief time at the dawn of the planetary system, then the process of planet formation must kick off very quickly.”

The study suggests that the early-formation picture is likely to be correct, meaning that Jupiter and Saturn had plenty of time to grow to their current sizes.

“Our study complements a growing consensus in the field that planet formation got going early, with the first bodies forming concurrently with the star,” said Bonsor. “Analyses of polluted white dwarfs tell us that this radioactive melting process is a potentially ubiquitous mechanism affecting the formation of all extrasolar planets.

“This is just the beginning – every time we find a new white dwarf, we can gather more evidence and learn more about how planets form. We can trace elements like nickel and chromium and say how big an asteroid must have been when it formed its iron core. It’s amazing that we’re able to probe processes like this in exoplanetary systems.”

Amy Bonsor is a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. The research was supported in part by the Royal Society, the Simons Foundation, and the European Research Council.

 

Reference:
Amy Bonsor et al. ‘Rapid formation of exoplanetesimals revealed by white dwarfs.’ Nature Astronomy (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01815-8

A team of astronomers have found that planet formation in our young Solar System started much earlier than previously thought, with the building blocks of planets growing at the same time as their parent star.

Some white dwarfs are amazing laboratories, because their thin atmospheres are almost like celestial graveyardsAmy BonsorAmanda SmithStudy of ‘polluted’ white dwarfs finds that stars and planets grow together


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

Yes

Lack of computer access linked to poorer mental health in young people during COVID-19 pandemic

Mon, 14/11/2022 - 08:00

The team found that the end of 2020 was the time when young people faced the most difficulties and that the mental health of those young people without access to a computer tended to deteriorate to a greater extent than that of their peers who did have access.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on young people’s mental health, with evidence of rising levels of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. Adolescence is a period when people are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health disorders, which can have long-lasting consequences into adulthood. In the UK, the mental health of children and adolescents was already deteriorating before the pandemic, but the proportion of people in this age group likely to be experiencing a mental health disorder increased from 11% in 2017 to 16% in July 2020.

The pandemic led to the closure of schools and an increase in online schooling, the impacts of which were not felt equally. Those adolescents without access to a computer faced the greatest disruption: in one study 30% of school students from middle-class homes reported taking part in live or recorded school lessons daily, while only 16% of students from working-class homes reported doing so.

In addition to school closures, lockdown often meant that young people could not meet their friends in person. During these periods, online and digital forms of interaction with peers, such as through video games and social media, are likely to have helped reduce the impact of these social disruptions. 

Tom Metherell, who at the time of the study was an undergraduate student at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, said: “Access to computers meant that many young people were still able to ‘attend’ school virtually, carry on with their education to an extent and keep up with friends. But anyone who didn’t have access to a computer would have been at a significant disadvantage, which would only risk increasing their sense of isolation.”

To examine in detail the impact of digital exclusion on the mental health of young people, Metherell and colleagues examined data from 1,387 10–15-year-olds collected as part of Understanding Society, a large UK-wide longitudinal survey. They focused on access to computers rather than smartphones, as schoolwork is largely possible only on a computer while at this age most social interactions occur in person at school.

The results of their study are published in Scientific Reports.

Participants completed a questionnaire that assesses common childhood psychological difficulties, which allowed the Understanding Society team to score them on five areas: hyperactivity/inattention, prosocial behaviour, emotional, conduct and peer relationship problems. From this, they derived a ‘Total Difficulties’ score for each individual.

Over the course of the pandemic, the researchers noted small changes in overall mental health of the group, with average Total Difficulties scores increasing form pre-pandemic levels of 10.7 (out of a maximum 40), peaking at 11.4 at the end of 2020 before declining to 11.1 by March 2021.

Those young people who had no access to a computer saw the largest increase in their Total Difficulties scores. While both groups of young people had similar scores at the start of the pandemic, when modelled with adjustment for sociodemographic factors, those without computer access saw their average scores increase to 17.8, compared to their peers, whose scores increased to 11.2. Almost one in four (24%) young people in the group without computer access had Total Difficulties scores classed as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ compared to one in seven (14%) in the group with computer access.

Metherell, now a PhD student at UCL, added: “Young people’s mental health tended to suffer most during the strictest periods of lockdown, when they were less likely to be able go to school or see friends. But those without access to a computer were the worst hit – their mental health suffered much more than their peers and the change was more dramatic.”

Dr Amy Orben from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences at the University of Cambridge, the study’s senior author, added: “Rather than always focusing on the downsides of digital technology on young people’s mental health, we need to recognise that it can have important benefits and may act as a buffer for their mental health during times of acute social isolation, such as the lockdown.

“We don’t know if and when a future lockdown will occur, but our research shows that we need to start thinking urgently how we can tackle digital inequalities and help protect the mental health of our young people in times when their regular in-person social networks are disrupted.”

The researchers argue that policymakers and public health officials need to recognise the risks of ‘digital exclusion’ to young people’s mental health and prioritise ensuring equitable digital access.

Dr Amy Orben is a Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Tom Metherell was supported by was supported by the British Psychological Society Undergraduate Research Assistantship Scheme. The research was largely funded by the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Metherell, T et al. Digital access constraints predict worse mental health among adolescents during COVID-19. Scientific Reports; 9 Nov 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-23899-y

Cambridge researchers have highlighted how lack of access to a computer was linked to poorer mental health among young people and adolescents during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Young people’s mental health tended to suffer most during the strictest periods of lockdown, when they were less likely to be able go to school or see friendsTom MetherellThomas ParkBoy taking part in a virtual lesson


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

YesLicence type: Public Domain

First glimpse of Universal route’s new zero-emission buses for Cambridge

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 09:18

Nine Sigma 12 battery electric buses will run on an extended route commencing at Girton College and then linking Eddington with West Cambridge, the city centre, the train station and onwards to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, after the University – which subsidises the Universal buses – agreed to electrify the service from July 2023 as part of its commitment to sustainability.

Route U, ‘the University bus for everyone’, carries around 16,000 people per week, including staff, students and members of the public. 

Bus company Whippet, part of the Ascendal Group, which will operate the new electric service, this week hosted a public event at the West Hub, JJ Thomson Ave, where one of the fully electric Sigma vehicles was on display, albeit the shorter Sigma 10 model. After hearing about some of the features of the buses, the first of their kind to be used in the UK, attendees were given the opportunity to travel on one of the vehicles.

Professor Ian Leslie, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor with special responsibility for Environmental Sustainability, said: “Cambridge is an institution which prides itself on innovation, and has an appreciation of innovation that can help address the biggest issues facing society.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon emissions across all scopes, and the introduction of these new zero-emission vehicles is part of a wide programme of work the University is undertaking to achieve outstanding environmental sustainability. It will be a big day when the newly electrified Universal fleet rolls out into service next July.” 

Jonathan Ziebart, Group Business Development Director at Ascendal, said: “We remain incredibly excited to be the University of Cambridge’s partner in introducing its first zero emission bus network, operating along the world’s longest Guided Busway.” 

The new Universal contract will provide a ‘split service’, with half of the buses serving Girton College at the northern end of the route, and half routed along Grange Road and into Barton Road and Newnham Road to better serve Wolfson College, with some buses returning to Hills Road to connect with Homerton College and the Faculty of Education.

Visitors to the West Cambridge site were given a preview of the new zero-emission bus fleet that will carry passengers on the city’s Universal service from next summer.

These new zero-emission vehicles are part of a wide programme of work the University is undertaking to achieve outstanding environmental sustainability.Professor Ian Leslie, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor


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

Yes

First glimpse of Universal route’s new zero-emission buses for Cambridge

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 08:47

Visitors to the West Cambridge site were given a preview of the new zero-emission bus fleet that will carry passengers on the city’s Universal service from next summer.

Nine Sigma 12 battery electric buses will run on an extended route commencing at Girton College and then linking Eddington with West Cambridge, the city centre, the train station and onwards to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, after the University – which subsidises the Universal buses – agreed to electrify the service from July 2023 as part of its commitment to sustainability.

Route U, ‘the University bus for everyone’, carries around 16,000 people per week, including staff, students and members of the public. 

Bus company Whippet, part of the Ascendal Group, which will operate the new electric service, this week hosted a public event at the West Hub, JJ Thomson Ave, where one of the fully electric Sigma vehicles was on display, albeit the shorter Sigma 10 model. After hearing about some of the features of the buses, the first of their kind to be used in the UK, attendees were given the opportunity to travel on one of the vehicles.

Professor Ian Leslie, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor with special responsibility for Environmental Sustainability, said: “Cambridge is an institution which prides itself on innovation, and has an appreciation of innovation that can help address the biggest issues facing society.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon emissions across all scopes, and the introduction of these new zero-emission vehicles is part of a wide programme of work the University is undertaking to achieve outstanding environmental sustainability. It will be a big day when the newly electrified Universal fleet rolls out into service next July.” 

Jonathan Ziebart, Group Business Development Director at Ascendal, said: “We remain incredibly excited to be the University of Cambridge’s partner in introducing its first zero emission bus network, operating along the world’s longest Guided Busway.” 

The new Universal contract will provide a ‘split service’, with half of the buses serving Girton College at the northern end of the route, and half routed along Grange Road and into Barton Road and Newnham Road to better serve Wolfson College, with some buses returning to Hills Road to connect with Homerton College and the Faculty of Education.

These new zero-emission vehicles are part of a wide programme of work the University is undertaking to achieve outstanding environmental sustainability.Professor Ian Leslie, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor


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

Yes

Workplace cafeteria study finds no evidence that physical activity calorie-equivalent labelling changes food purchasing

Wed, 09/11/2022 - 08:30

More than three in five UK adults are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer. A major factor that contributes to this is excess energy intake – in other words, eating too many calories. Measures that can help reduce energy intake could help tackle the obesity problem.

In the UK, adults eat as many as a third of their meals out of home, including in workplace cafeterias, and these meals are often much higher in calories than meals eaten at home. Since April 2022 calorie labelling is now required on food and drink served out of the home in businesses employing 250 or more people. While many people welcome this information, evidence for its effectiveness in reducing calories purchased or consumed is limited in quantity and quality. For example, two previous studies conducted by the authors in nine worksite cafeterias found no evidence for  an effect of simple calorie labelling (kcal) on calories purchased.

Another option is to show the amount of exercise required to burn off these calories – so-called PACE (physical activity calorie-equivalent) labels – for example, a 1014kcal ‘large battered haddock’ portion would take upwards of five hours walking (278 minutes) to burn off. A recent systematic review – a type of study that brings together existing evidence – concluded that PACE labels may reduce energy selected from menus and decrease the energy consumed when compared with simple calorie labels or no labels, but only one of the 15 studies reviewed was in a ‘real world’ setting.

To explore whether PACE levels can make a difference in real world settings, researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit carried out an experiment across 10 workplace cafeterias in England over a 12 week period in 2021. Their results are published today in PLOS Medicine.

The team collected baseline sales data for a period of business-as-usual for the cafeterias ahead of the experiment. During this period, most labels and menus featured only the product name and price, though some products included standardised front-of-pack nutrition labels on branded and in-house products.  During the intervention period the ten cafeterias included calorie information and PACE labels alongside food and drinks items and on items including hot meals, sandwiches, cold drinks and desserts. These labels displayed the minutes of walking that would be needed to burn off the calories in the product.

The team found no evidence that including PACE labels resulted in an overall change in energy purchased from labelled items. However, there was a great deal of variability, with one cafeteria reporting a fall per transaction of 161kcal and another an increase of 69kcal, while five of the cafeterias reported no significant change.

First author Dr James Reynolds from the School of Psychology, Aston University, who carried out the research while at Cambridge, said: “Although we found that showing the amount of exercise required to burn off calories made little difference to the number of calories purchased – and, we can assume, eaten and drunk – there was considerable variability between cafeterias. This suggests that other factors may have influenced the effectiveness of these labels, such as the type of food sold in the cafeteria or the characteristics of those using them.”  

The number of calories purchased from items that did not feature the PACE labels did not change and the labels made little difference to the revenue for the cafeterias – just a small increase of 3p per transaction.

Senior author Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit and Bye-Fellow of Christ’s College, University of Cambridge, said: “This is the largest study in a real world setting to look at the impact of PACE labels on food and drink purchases, examining 250,000 transactions across 10 worksite cafeterias. The findings suggest that PACE labels, contrary to expectations, may have little or no impact on the food people buy in worksite cafeterias.”

Reference
Reynolds, JP et al. Evaluation of physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labels’ impact on energy purchased in cafeterias: a stepped-wedge randomised controlled trial. PLOS Med; 8 Nov 2022; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004116

An experiment carried out across ten workplace cafeterias found no significant change in the overall number of calories purchased when food and drink labels showed the amount of physical activity required to burn off their calories.

The findings suggest that physical activity calorie-equivalent labels, contrary to expectations, may have little or no impact on the food people buy in worksite cafeteriasTheresa MarteauUniversity of CambridgePACE labels alongside menus


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

YesLicence type: Attribution

First ever clinical trial underway of laboratory grown red blood cells being transfused into another person

Mon, 07/11/2022 - 00:05

The manufactured blood cells were grown from stem cells from donors. The red cells were then transfused into volunteers in the RESTORE randomised controlled clinical trial.

This is the first time in the world that red blood cells that have been grown in a laboratory have been given to another person as part of a trial into blood transfusion.

If proved safe and effective, manufactured blood cells could in time revolutionise treatments for people with blood disorders such as sickle cell and rare blood types. It can be difficult to find enough well-matched donated blood for some people with these disorders.

Chief Investigator Professor Cedric Ghevaert, Professor in Transfusion Medicine and Consultant Haematologist at the University of Cambridge and NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We hope our lab grown red blood cells will last longer than those that come from blood donors. If our trial, the first such in the world, is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in future, helping transform their care.”

The RESTORE trial is a joint research initiative by NHS Blood and Transplant and the University of Bristol, working with the University of Cambridge, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, NIHR Cambridge Clinical Research Facility, and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It is part-funded by a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) grant.

Professor Ashley Toye, Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Bristol and Director of the NIHR Blood and Transplant Unit in red cell products, said: “This challenging and exciting trial is a huge stepping stone for manufacturing blood from stem cells. This is the first-time lab grown blood from an allogeneic donor has been transfused and we are excited to see how well the cells perform at the end of the clinical trial.”

The trial is studying the lifespan of the lab grown cells compared with infusions of standard red blood cells from the same donor. The lab-grown blood cells are all fresh, so the trial team expect them to perform better than a similar transfusion of standard donated red cells, which contains cells of varying ages.

Additionally, if manufactured cells last longer in the body, patients who regularly need blood may not need transfusions as often. That would reduce iron overload from frequent blood transfusions, which can lead to serious complications.

The trial is the first step towards making lab grown red blood cells available as a future clinical product. For the foreseeable future, manufactured cells could only be used for a very small number of patients with very complex transfusions needs. NHSBT continues to rely on the generosity of donors.

Co-Chief Investigator Dr Rebecca Cardigan, Head of Component Development NHS Blood and Transplant and Affiliated Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, said: “It’s really fantastic that we are now able to grow enough red cells to medical grade to allow this trial to commence. We are really looking forward to seeing the results and whether they perform better than standard red cells.”

Two people have so far been transfused with the lab grown red cells. They were closely monitored and no untoward side effects were reported. They are well and healthy. The identities of participants infused so far are not currently being released, to help keep the trial ‘blinded’.

The amount of lab grown cells being infused varies but is around 5-10mls - about one to two teaspoons.

Donors were recruited from NHSBT’s blood donor base. They donated blood to the trial and stem cells were separated out from their blood. These stem cells were then grown to produce red blood cells in a laboratory at NHS Blood and Transplant’s Advanced Therapies Unit in Bristol. The recipients of the blood were recruited from healthy members of the NIHR BioResource.

A minimum of 10 participants will receive two mini transfusions at least four months apart, one of standard donated red cells and one of lab grown red cells, to find out if the young red blood cells made in the laboratory last longer than cells made in the body.

Further trials are needed before clinical use, but this research marks a significant step in using lab grown red blood cells to improve treatment for patients with rare blood types or people with complex transfusion needs.

John James OBE, Chief Executive of the Sickle Cell Society, said: “This research offers real hope for those difficult to transfuse sickle cell patients who have developed antibodies against most donor blood types. However, we should remember that the NHS still needs 250 blood donations every day to treat people with sickle cell and the figure is rising. The need for normal blood donations to provide the vast majority of blood transfusions will remain. We strongly encourage people with African and Caribbean heritage to keep registering as blood donors and start giving blood regularly.”

Dr Farrukh Shah, Medical Director of Transfusion for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Patients who need regular or intermittent blood transfusions may result develop antibodies against minor blood groups which makes it harder to find donor blood which can be transfused without the risk of a potentially life-threatening reaction. This world leading research lays the groundwork for the manufacture of red blood cells that can safely be used to transfuse people with disorders like sickle cell.  The need for normal blood donations to provide the vast majority of blood will remain. But the potential for this work to benefit hard to transfuse patients is very significant.”

Adapted from a press release from NHS Blood and Transplant

Cambridge researchers are taking part in the world’s first clinical trial of red blood cells that have been grown in a laboratory for transfusion into another person.

If our trial is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in future, helping transform their careCedric GhevaertNHS Blood and TransplantCell culture flasks in the incubator during manufacture of red blood cells


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

Yes

Cambridge collections awarded Arts Council England funding

Fri, 04/11/2022 - 08:00

ACE has awarded renewed National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status to the consortium of seven museums (£617,534) and to Kettle’s Yard, the University's contemporary art gallery (£296,107). 

The University cares for the country’s highest concentration of internationally important collections outside London, with more than five million works of art, artefacts and specimens.

Together, they form an international tourist attraction and the largest cultural provider in the East of England, one of the country’s most rapidly growing regions.

The University museums work closely together with the University’s Botanic Garden, Library and other collections, and Cambridge’s independent museums and cultural organisations, providing vital sector support across Cambridgeshire and the region.

“University collections have a unique power to bring people together from across the world to explore today’s big questions, looking at the past and present to help determine our future," said Kamal Munir, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for University Community & Engagement. 

"This is a difficult funding landscape and we know that ACE were faced with hard decisions during an investment round that received more applications than ever before. In that context, we’re especially pleased to have received further investment in the University collections.

"While this grant represents a reduction of 40% from current funding levels, it is heartening to see this continued recognition of the important role the collections play within our local communities," Munir said.

Driven by research and shaped by communities, the work of the museums is grounded in the University’s commitment to contribute to society through education, learning and research at the highest levels of excellence, and encompasses collaboration with world-renowned contemporary artists, game-changing research-led exhibitions and wide-ranging inclusion and learning programmes, promoting wellbeing, creativity and connectivity.

“While there is no doubt that this significant reduction to our current level of Arts Council England funding represents a major challenge, we’re grateful for the support announced today, especially given the difficult times that many people are facing," said Luke Syson, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, lead partner of the museums NPO. 

"As we look ahead to our future, we remain committed to continuing to engage the widest possible audience, both in the enormously unequal region of Cambridgeshire and beyond, and look forward to working with ACE and other partners and funders to deliver our ambitious programmes.”

The museums are undertaking a long-term investigation into the legacies of empire and enslavement, and are currently sharing findings and inviting challenge and conversation with audiences and communities through a major public programme, Power and Memory. An upcoming collaborative programme will also inspire action to mitigate the climate crisis through engaging audiences with innovative environmental research.

Andrew Nairne, Director of Kettle’s Yard said: “We are proud to continue to be an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation. This core funding supports our work making outstanding exhibitions, conserving and animating the house and collection, engaging with diverse community groups and providing a learning programme - so contributing powerfully to the Let’s Create strategy.”

Jo McPhee, Head of Partnerships, added: “Cambridge is frequently ranked as the most unequal city in the country. Our communities and the sector are facing increasingly challenging times. Despite a reduction in our funding, we will continue to work with delivery partners, including the City and County Councils, and cultural sector colleagues to support our communities and create a flourishing cultural offer that’s open and accessible to everyone.”

The University of Cambridge Museums are

  • Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Museum of Classical Archaeology
  • Fitzwilliam Museum
  • Kettle’s Yard
  • Polar Museum
  • Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
  • Whipple Museum of the History of Science
  • Museum of Zoology

Culture in Cambridge receives a boost with a £913,641 Arts Council England (ACE) award to the University’s museums and collections.

It is heartening to see this continued recognition of the important role the collections play within our local communitiesKamal MunirVisitors in the Fitzwilliam Museum


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

Yes

Substance use disorders linked to poor health outcomes in wide range of physical health conditions

Fri, 04/11/2022 - 00:13

In a study published today in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers looked at the risk of mortality and loss of life-years among people who developed 28 different physical health conditions, comparing those who had previously been hospitalised with substance use disorder against those who had not.

They found that patients with most of the health conditions were more likely than their counterparts to die during the study period if they had been hospitalised with substance use disorder prior to the development of these conditions. For most subsequent health conditions, people with substance use disorders also had shorter life-expectancies than did individuals without substance use disorders.

One in twenty people worldwide aged 15 years or older lives with alcohol use disorder, while around one in 100 people have psychoactive drug use disorders. Although substance use disorders have considerable direct effects on health, they are also linked to a number of physical and mental health conditions. Consequently, the presence of these contributes to higher risk of mortality and shorter lifespan in people with substance use disorders.

To explore this link further, researchers analysed patient records from Czech nationwide registers of all-cause hospitalisations and deaths during the period from 1994-2017. They used a novel design, estimating the risk of death and life-years lost after the onset of multiple specific physical health conditions in individuals with a history of hospitalisation for substance use disorders, when compared with matched counterparts without substance use disorder but with the same physical health condition.

Although the study only looked at people living in Czechia, the researchers believe the results are likely to be similar in other countries, too.

They found that people with pre-existing substance use disorders were more likely than their counterparts to have died during the study following the development of 26 out of 28 physical health conditions. For seven of these conditions – including atrial fibrillation, hypertension, and ischaemic heart disease – the risk was more than doubled. In most cases, people with substance use disorders have shorter life-expectancies than their counterparts.

Lead author Tomáš Formánek, a PhD student at the National Institute of Mental Health, Czechia, and the University of Cambridge, said: “Substance use disorders seem to have a profound negative impact on prognosis following the development of various subsequent physical health conditions, in some cases dramatically affecting the life expectancy of the affected people.”

It is not clear why this should be the case, though the researchers say there are a number of possible reasons. It is already known that substance use has a direct negative impact on physical health and is associated with lifestyle factors that affect our health, such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet. Similarly, people with substance use disorders are less likely to take part in screening and prevention programmes for diseases such as cancer and diabetes and are less likely to use preventive medication, such as drugs to prevent hypertension. There are also some factors not directly related to substance use, such as diagnostic overshadowing, meaning the misattribution of physical symptoms to mental disorders. Such misattribution can subsequently contribute to under-diagnosis, late diagnosis, and delayed treatment in affected individuals.

Senior author Professor Peter Jones from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, added: “These results show how important it is not to compartmentalise health conditions into mind, brain or body. All interact leading here to the dramatic increases in mortality from subsequent physical illnesses in people with substance use disorders. There are clear implications for preventive action by clinicians, health services and policy developers that all need to recognise these intersections.”

Co-author Dr Petr Winkler from the National Institute of Mental Health, Czechia, said: “It is also important to consider that the majority of people with substance use disorders go undetected. They often do not seek a professional help and hospitalisations for these conditions usually come only at very advanced stages of illness. Alongside actions focused on physical health of people with substance use disorders, we need to equally focus on early detection and early intervention in substance use disorders.”

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England at Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

Reference
Formánek, T et al.  Mortality and life-years lost following subsequent physical comorbidity in people with pre-existing substance use disorders: a national registry-based retrospective cohort study of hospitalised individuals in Czechia. The Lancet Psychiatry; 3 Nov 2022; DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(22)00335-2

People who have a past history of hospitalisation because of substance use disorders have much worse outcomes following the onset of a wide range of physical health conditions, according to researchers in the UK and Czechia.

Substance use disorders seem to have a profound negative impact on prognosis following the development of various subsequent physical health conditions, in some cases dramatically affecting the life expectancy of the affected peopleTomáš Formánekaire images (Getty Images)Woman holding a glass of whisky


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

Yes

Why keeping it in the family can be good news when it comes to CEOs

Thu, 03/11/2022 - 15:37

The stereotype of a family firm is one where nepotism is rife and talent goes unrewarded. Yet according to a new study co-authored by a Cambridge researcher, having a family CEO in charge can actually boost positive emotions in employees and lower voluntary turnover.

“Research suggests that firms with family CEOs differ from other types of businesses, yet surprisingly little is known about how employees in these firms feel and behave compared to those working in other firms,” says the study by Jochen Menges who teaches at both the University of Zurich and Cambridge Judge Business School and colleagues from the Otto Beisheim School of Management, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of St. Gallen.

Family businesses: the advantages when it comes to CEOs

The research fills in this knowledge gap, busting some old myths about family firms by finding that family CEOs are better at creating an emotional connection to the business than hired professional CEOs.

“There has long been a conundrum in family business research: why do many such firms thrive despite anachronistic management structures and low investment in employees?” says Menges. “This study helps unlock that paradox by focusing on the positive role of emotions tied to family CEOs.”

Based on data from 41,200 employees and 2,246 direct reports of CEOs in 497 firms in Germany with and without family CEOs, the research finds that family-managed firms seem better able to “leverage the power of emotions for the benefit of organisational survival and success.”

“Family CEOs, because of their emotion-evoking double role as family members and business leaders, are, on average, more likely to infuse employees with positive emotions, such as enthusiasm and excitement, than hired professional CEOs.”

“These firms, especially when they are relatively small and less formalised, provide a workplace characterised by high-energy positive emotions – not despite but rather because of their seemingly outdated hereditary leadership structures that reserve the CEO role for family members. We conclude that family-managed firms are not relics of the past. Instead, they are here to stay, thriving on the positive feelings that their employees share.”

How the CEO plays a key role

The study finds the role of the CEO is crucial in explaining employees’ feelings and behaviours. By integrating family science with management research, it centres on emotions rather than strategic or cognitive factors.

The researchers compare the impact of a CEO who is a family member of the ownership family with a hired professional CEO (whether a firm is family-owned or not), and finds these family CEOs pass on their high-energy, positive emotions to non-family members. This may partly be because where firms have been held in family hands for generations, family CEOs often perceive such firms as their “babies” – allowing for an emotional bond to develop over an extended period. An indirect effect of a family CEO is that if employees collectively feel better at work, they should also be less likely to leave their jobs.

Emotional contagion: spreading positive feelings

Family CEOs are shown not only to be more likely to experience positive emotions, but also to express them at work, while suppressing potential negative emotions.

“We suggest that these emotions spread through firms by way of emotional contagion during interactions with employees, thereby setting the organisational affective tone,” the research says.

In family-managed firms, this spread of emotions is likely to be facilitated by the frequent interactions that these CEOs have with their employees, often forging stable, long-term relationships with those who report directly to them. This process then trickles down through the firm, by staff mimicking each other’s emotional expression, and determining how to feel by watching others express their feelings.

“Because of their hereditary claim to power, family CEOs are considered to be more powerful than their professionally appointed counterparts who can be more easily removed from the CEO position,” the study says. “Thus, family CEOs should hold greater sway over the emotions their employees feel.”

This sway is limited, however, by certain aspects of organisational structure:

Size: The larger the organisation, the weaker the relationship between the family CEO and the positive affective tone of the firm because the emotional contagion process, which relies on social interaction, is easily interrupted.

Centralisation: The more that authority and decision-making is diluted from the CEO, the weaker their effect because it fosters horizontal communication patterns rather than vertical, limiting opportunities for family CEOs to transmit their emotions.

Formalisation: Rules, procedures, instructions, and communications being formalised or written down are likely to stifle the emotional contagion effect of the family CEO because things become more regulated, less spontaneous, and are less affected by emotion.

The authors suggest this study could be used by human resources managers to demonstrate the potential benefits of working for these businesses. It could also provide insight for firms needing to appoint a new family or hired CEO.

“The research has implications for managers even outside of family firms,” says Menges. “Managers can benefit from the research by seeking creative ways to bring aspects of their own family into the workplace as a way to tap into and pass on positive emotions to others in the firm.”

Reference
Nadine Kammerlander, Jochen Menges, Dennis Herhausen, Petra Kipfelsberger, Heike Bruch: ‘How family CEOs affect employees’ feelings and behaviors: A study on positive emotions’, Long Range Planning (2022)

Adapted from an article published by Cambridge Judge Business School

Family CEOs are more likely to make employees feel positive about their workplace and stay longer, finds a new study.


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

Yes

Can cosmic inflation be ruled out?

Thu, 03/11/2022 - 11:59

The astrophysicists, from the University of Cambridge, the University of Trento, and Harvard University, say that there is a clear, unambiguous signal in the cosmos which could eliminate inflation as a possibility. Their paper, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, argues that this signal – known as the cosmic graviton background (CGB) – can feasibly be detected, although it will be a massive technical and scientific challenge.

“Inflation was theorised to explain various fine-tuning challenges of the so-called hot Big Bang model,” said the paper’s first author Dr Sunny Vagnozzi, from Cambridge’s Kavli Institute for Cosmology, and who is now based at the University of Trento. “It also explains the origin of structure in our Universe as a result of quantum fluctuations.

“However, the large flexibility displayed by possible models for cosmic inflation which span an unlimited landscape of cosmological outcomes raises concerns that cosmic inflation is not falsifiable, even if individual inflationary models can be ruled out. Is it possible in principle to test cosmic inflation in a model-independent way?”

Some scientists raised concerns about cosmic inflation in 2013, when the Planck satellite released its first measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the universe's oldest light.

“When the results from the Planck satellite were announced, they were held up as a confirmation of cosmic inflation,” said Professor Avi Loeb from Harvard University, Vagnozzi’s co-author on the current paper. “However, some of us argued that the results might be showing just the opposite.”

Along with Anna Ijjas and Paul Steinhardt, Loeb was one of those who argued that results from Planck showed that inflation posed more puzzles than it solved, and that it was time to consider new ideas about the beginnings of the universe, which, for instance. may have begun not with a bang but with a bounce from a previously contracting cosmos.

The maps of the CMB released by Planck represent the earliest time in the universe we can ‘see’, 100 million years before the first stars formed. We cannot see farther.

“The actual edge of the observable universe is at the distance that any signal could have travelled at the speed-of-light limit over the 13.8 billion years that elapsed since the birth of the Universe,” said Loeb. “As a result of the expansion of the universe, this edge is currently located 46.5 billion light years away. The spherical volume within this boundary is like an archaeological dig centred on us: the deeper we probe into it, the earlier is the layer of cosmic history that we uncover, all the way back to the Big Bang which represents our ultimate horizon. What lies beyond the horizon is unknown.”

In could be possible to dig even further into the universe’s beginnings by studying near-weightless particles known as neutrinos, which are the most abundant particles that have mass in the universe. The Universe allows neutrinos to travel freely without scattering from approximately a second after the Big Bang, when the temperature was ten billion degrees. “The present-day universe must be filled with relic neutrinos from that time,” said Vagnozzi.

Vagnozzi and Loeb say we can go even further back, however, by tracing gravitons, particles that mediate the force of gravity.

“The Universe was transparent to gravitons all the way back to the earliest instant traced by known physics, the Planck time: 10 to the power of -43 seconds, when the temperature was the highest conceivable: 10 to the power of 32 degrees,” said Loeb. “A proper understanding of what came before that requires a predictive theory of quantum gravity, which we do not possess.”

Vagnozzi and Loeb say that once the Universe allowed gravitons to travel freely without scattering, a relic background of thermal gravitational radiation with a temperature of slightly less than one degree above absolute zero should have been generated: the cosmic graviton background (CGB).

However, the Big Bang theory does not allow for the existence of the CGB, as it suggests that the exponential inflation of the newborn universe diluted relics such as the CGB to a point that they are undetectable. This can be turned into a test: if the CGB were detected, clearly this would rule out cosmic inflation, which does not allow for its existence.

Vagnozzi and Loeb argue that such a test is possible, and the CGB could in principle be detected in future. The CGB adds to the cosmic radiation budget, which otherwise includes microwave and neutrino backgrounds. It therefore affects the cosmic expansion rate of the early Universe at a level that is detectable by next-generation cosmological probes, which could provide the first indirect detection of the CGB.

However, to claim a definitive detection of the CGB, the ‘smoking gun’ would be the detection of a background of high-frequency gravitational waves peaking at frequencies around 100 GHz. This would be very hard to detect, and would require tremendous technological advances in gyrotron and superconducting magnets technology. Nevertheless, say the researchers, this signal may be within our reach in future.

Reference:
Sunny Vagnozzi and Abraham Loeb. ‘The Challenge of Ruling Out Inflation via the Primordial Graviton Background.’ Astrophysical Review Letters (2022). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac9b0e

Adapted in part from a piece on Medium by Avi Loeb.

Astrophysicists say that cosmic inflation – a point in the Universe’s infancy when space-time expanded exponentially, and what physicists really refer to when they talk about the ‘Big Bang’ – can in principle be ruled out in an assumption-free way.

Is it possible in principle to test cosmic inflation in a model-independent way?Sunny VagnozziA. Ijjas, P.J. Steinhardt and A. Loeb (Scientific American, February 2017)Cosmic inflation is a popular scenario for the earliest phase in the evolution of the Universe


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

Yes

Award winning author and former MPhil in African Studies student Mary Ononokpono talks about how her work has been inspired by our MPhil programme

 

CAS Mailing list