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- 09/05/16--01:44: _New exoplanet think...
- 09/15/16--00:00: _A tight squeeze for...
- 06/20/16--02:30: _Students invent new...
- 10/04/16--03:05: _Cambridge alumni wi...
- 10/07/16--08:26: _Ultra-thin quantum ...
- 10/17/16--08:00: _ Researchers road-t...
- 11/07/16--03:01: _Two Cambridge resea...
- 11/10/16--11:00: _World’s 'smallest m...
- 01/17/17--02:29: _Funding for innovat...
- 03/30/17--11:30: _Rotating molecules ...
- 05/19/17--00:00: _Scientists construc...
- 06/01/17--09:09: _LIGO detects gravit...
- 06/23/17--08:00: _How to train your d...
- 07/11/17--16:01: _Smallest-ever star ...
- 07/13/17--03:44: _Vice-Chancellor’s a...
- 07/18/17--02:00: _Non-toxic alternati...
- 09/06/17--08:48: _Defects in next-gen...
- 09/21/17--08:59: _Cambridge scientist...
- 10/11/17--00:13: _Winton Symposium ta...
- 10/12/17--01:00: _Synthetic organs, n...
- 06/20/16--02:30: Students invent new technology to improve later life
- 10/04/16--03:05: Cambridge alumni win 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics
- 10/17/16--08:00: Researchers road-test powerful method for studying singlet fission
- 01/17/17--02:29: Funding for innovative teaching and learning projects
- 03/30/17--11:30: Rotating molecules create a brighter future
- 05/19/17--00:00: Scientists construct a stable one-dimensional metallic material
- 06/01/17--09:09: LIGO detects gravitational waves for third time
- 06/23/17--08:00: How to train your drugs: from nanotherapeutics to nanobots
- 07/11/17--16:01: Smallest-ever star discovered by astronomers
- 07/18/17--02:00: Non-toxic alternative for next-generation solar cells
- 09/06/17--08:48: Defects in next-generation solar cells can be healed with light
With funding from The Kavli Foundation, the think tank will bring together some of the major researchers in exoplanetary science – arguably the most exciting field in modern astronomy – for a series of annual meetings to address the biggest questions in this field which humanity could conceivably answer in the next decade.
“We’re really at the frontier in exoplanet research,” said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who is leading the think tank. “The pace of new discoveries is incredible – it really feels like anything can be discovered any moment in our exploration of extra-terrestrial worlds. By bringing together some of the best minds in this field we aim to consolidate our collective wisdom and address the biggest questions in this field that humanity can ask and answer at this time.”
Tremendous advances have been made in the study of exoplanets since the first such planet was discovered around a sun-like star in 1995 by the Cavendish Laboratory’s Professor Didier Queloz. Just last month, a potentially habitable world was discovered in our own neighbourhood, orbiting Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun.
However, there are still plenty questions to be answered, such as whether we’re capable of detecting signatures of life on other planets within the next ten years, what the best strategies are to find habitable planets, how diverse are planets and their atmospheres, and how planets form in the first place.
With at least four space missions and numerous large ground-based facilities scheduled to become operational in the next decade, exoplanetary scientists will be able to detect more and more exoplanets, and will also have the ability to conduct detailed studies of their atmospheres, interiors, and formation conditions. At the same time, major developments are expected in all aspects of exoplanetary theory and data interpretation.
In order to make these major advances in the field, new interdisciplinary approaches are required. Additionally, as new scientific questions and areas emerge at an increasingly fast pace, there is a need for a focused forum where emerging questions in frontier areas of the field can be discussed. “Given the exciting advancements in exoplanetary science now is the right time to assess the state of the field and the scientific challenges and opportunities on the horizon,” said Professor Andy Fabian, director of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge.
The think tank will operate in the form of a yearly Exoplanet Symposium series which will be focused on addressing pressing questions in exoplanetary science. One emerging area or theme in exoplanetary science will be chosen each year based on its critical importance to the advancement of the field, relevance to existing or imminent observational facilities, need for an interdisciplinary approach, and/or scope for fundamental breakthroughs.
About 30 experts in the field from around the world will discuss outstanding questions, new pathways, interdisciplinary synergies, and strategic actions that could benefit the exoplanet research community.
The inaugural symposium, “Kavli ExoFrontiers 2016”, is being held this week in Cambridge. The goal of this first symposium is to bring together experts from different areas of exoplanetary science to share their visions about the most pressing questions and future outlook of their respective areas. These visions will help provide both a broad outlook of the field and identify the ten most important questions in the field that could be addressed within the next decade. “We hope the think tank will provide a platform for new breakthroughs in the field through interdisciplinary and international efforts while bringing the most important scientific questions of our time to the fore,” said Madhusudhan. “We are in the golden age of exoplanetary science.”
More information about the Kavli ExoFrontiers 2016 Symposium is available at: www.ast.cam.ac.uk/meetings/2016/kavli.exofrontiers.2016.symposium
An international exoplanet ‘think tank’ is meeting this week in Cambridge to deliberate on the ten most important questions that humanity could answer in the next decade about planets outside our solar system.
Scientists have controlled electrons by packing them so tightly that they start to display quantum effects, using an extension of the technology currently used to make computer processors. The technique, reported in the journal Nature Communications, has uncovered properties of quantum matter that could pave a way to new quantum technologies.
The ability to control electrons in this way may lay the groundwork for many technological advances, including quantum computers that can solve problems fundamentally intractable by modern electronics. Before such technologies become practical however, researchers need to better understand quantum, or wave-like, particles, and more importantly, the interactions between them.
Squeezing electrons into a one-dimensional ‘quantum wire’ amplifies their quantum nature to the point that it can be seen, by measuring at what energy and wavelength (or momentum) electrons can be injected into the wire.
“Think of a crowded train carriage, with people standing tightly packed all the way down the centre of the carriage,” said Professor Christopher Ford of the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, one of the paper’s co-authors. “If someone tries to get in a door, they have to push the people closest to them along a bit to make room. In turn, those people push slightly on their neighbours, and so on. A wave of compression passes down the carriage, at some speed related to how people interact with their neighbours, and that speed probably depends on how hard they were shoved by the person getting on the train. By measuring this speed, one could learn about the interactions.”
“The same is true for electrons in a quantum wire – they repel each other and cannot get past, so if one electron enters or leaves, it excites a compressive wave like the people in the train,” said the paper’s first author Dr Maria Moreno, also from the Cavendish Laboratory.
However, electrons have another characteristic, their angular momentum or ‘spin’, which also interacts with their neighbours. Spin can also set off a wave carrying energy along the wire, and this spin wave travels at a different speed to the charge wave. Measuring the wavelength of these waves as the energy is varied is called tunnelling spectroscopy. The separate spin and charge waves were detected experimentally by researchers from Harvard and Cambridge Universities.
Now, in the paper published in Nature Communications, the Cambridge researchers have gone one stage further, to test the latest predictions of what should happen at high energies, where the original theory breaks down.
A flurry of theoretical activity in the past decade has led to new predictions of other ways of exciting waves among the electrons — it’s as if the person entering the train pushes so hard some people fall over and knock into others much further down the carriage. These new ‘modes’ are weaker than the spin and charge waves and so are harder to detect.
The collaborators of the Cambridge researchers from the University of Birmingham predicted that there would be a hierarchy of modes corresponding to the variety of ways in which the interactions can affect the quantum-mechanical particles, and the weaker modes should be strongest in very short wires.
To make a set of such short wires, the Cambridge group set about devising a way of making contact to a set of 6000 narrow strips of metal that are used to create the quantum wires from the semiconducting material gallium arsenide (GaAs). This required an extra layer of metal in the shape of bridges between the strips.
By varying the magnetic field and voltage, the tunnelling from the wires to an adjacent sheet of electrons could be mapped out, and this revealed evidence for the extra curves predicted, where it can be seen as an upside-down replica of the spin curve.
These results will now be applied to better understand and control the behaviour of electrons in the building blocks of a quantum computer.
Moreno et al. ‘Nonlinear spectra of spinons and holons in short GaAs quantum wires.’ Nature Communications (2016).DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12784
Researchers have observed quantum effects in electrons by squeezing them into one-dimensional ‘quantum wires’ and observing the interactions between them. The results could be used to aid in the development of quantum technologies, including quantum computing.
David Thouless (Trinity Hall, 1952), Duncan Haldane (Christ’s, 1970) and Michael Kosterlitz (Gonville and Caius, 1962) discovered unexpected behaviours of solid materials - and devised a mathematical framework to explain their properties. Their discoveries have led to new materials with an array of unique properties.
The Prize was divided, one half awarded to Thouless, the other half jointly to Haldane and Kosterlitz. The trio become the 93rd, 94th and 95th Nobel Affiliates of Cambridge to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
“This prize is richly deserved,” said Professor Nigel Cooper of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. “Through the great breakthroughs they’ve made, Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz took a visionary approach to understanding how topology plays a role in novel materials.”
Topology is a mathematical concept that accounts for how certain physical properties are related by smooth deformations: a football can be smoothly deformed into a rugby ball (so these have the same topology), but neither of these can be smoothly deformed into a bicycle tube (which therefore has different topology). The Laureates recognized how novel states of matter could arise due to the differing topologies of how the underlying particles arrange themselves at the microscopic level.
The Nobel Assembly made their announcement this morning (October 4), saying: “This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states. They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films. Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics.
“The three Laureates’ use of topological concepts in physics was decisive for their discoveries. Topology is a branch of mathematics that describes properties that only change step-wise. Using topology as a tool, they were able to astound the experts. In the early 1970s, Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless overturned the then current theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers. They demonstrated that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures and also explained the mechanism, phase transition, that makes superconductivity disappear at higher temperatures.
"In the 1980s, Thouless was able to explain a previous experiment with very thin electrically conducting layers in which conductance was precisely measured as integer steps. He showed that these integers were topological in their nature. At around the same time, Duncan Haldane discovered how topological concepts can be used to understand the properties of chains of small magnets found in some materials.
"We now know of many topological phases, not only in thin layers and threads, but also in ordinary three-dimensional materials. Over the last decade, this area has boosted frontline research in condensed matter physics, not least because of the hope that topological materials could be used in new generations of electronics and superconductors, or in future quantum computers. Current research is revealing the secrets of matter in the exotic worlds discovered by this year’s Nobel Laureates.”
Professor Haldane is the current Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Princeton University. Born in London in 1951, he came to Christ’s as an undergraduate in 1970 to read Natural Sciences. His PhD was conferred in 1978.
Professor Kosterlitz is the Harrison E. Farnsworth Professor of Physics at Brown University, where he joined the faculty in 1982. He was born to German Jewish emigres in 1942 and his father was the pioneering biochemist Hans Walter Kosterlitz. Professor Kosterlitz, who came to Cambridge in 1965, is the 14th Nobel Laureate affiliated to Gonville and Caius.
Professor Thouless, born in 1934, is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Washington. An undergraduate at Trinity Hall, he was also previously a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, where he was awarded a Doctorate of Science in 1985. He has been a Life Member of the college since 1986.
Professor Thouless was also a Fellow of Churchill College from 1961-65, and in 1961 became its first Director of Studies for Physics. He has also held the position of Visiting Fellow at Churchill. He is Churchill's 31st Nobel Affiliate and Trinity Hall's first.
The Master of Caius, Professor Sir Alan Fersht, today warmly congratulated Prof Kosterlitz, who was his exact contemporary at Caius, coming up to Cambridge to read Natural Sciences in 1962. "This is fantastic news," Sir Alan said. "Mike was obviously an exceptionally clever guy. We went to physics lectures together in our first year, and he continued to specialise in Physics in the second year while I specialised in Chemistry. He was a very good physicist, and moved from the UK to America fairly rapidly.
"He was an absolutely mad climber - he disappeared every weekend to go mountain climbing in the Peak District. He lived on Tree Court, and he built a traverse around the room where he would climb using his fingers and hanging on to the picture rail."
More details on previous Cambridge winners can be found here: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/research-at-cambridge/nobel-prize.
The first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in 1901.
This is great, groundbreaking materials science. The work is "beautiful and deep" with big applications in future electronics #NobelPrize— Dr Paul Coxon (@paulcoxon) October 4, 2016
Congratulations to Christ's alumnus Duncan Haldane! https://t.co/Au5SmFQdYv— Christ's College (@christs_college) October 4, 2016
Three alumni of the University of Cambridge were today awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work in the field of condensed matter physics.
Ultra-thin quantum light emitting diodes (LEDs) – made of layered materials just a few atoms thick – have been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge. Constructed of layers of different ultra-thin materials, the devices could be used in the development of new computing and sensing technologies. The ability to produce single photons using only electrical current is an important step towards building quantum networks on compact chips.
The devices are constructed of thin layers of different materials stacked together: graphene, boron nitride and transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). The TMD layer contains regions where electrons and electron vacancies, or holes, are tightly confined. When an electron fills an electron vacancy that sits at a lower energy than the electron, the energy difference is released as a photon, a particle of light. In the LED devices, a voltage pushes electrons through the device, where they fill the holes and emit single photons.
A computer built on the principles of quantum mechanics would be both far more powerful and more secure than current technologies, and would be capable of performing calculations that cannot be performed otherwise. However, in order to make such a device possible, researchers need to develop reliable methods of electrically generating single, indistinguishable photons as carriers of information across quantum networks.
The ultra-thin platform developed by the Cambridge researchers offers high levels of tunability, design freedom, and integration capabilities. Typically, single photon generation requires large-scale optical set-ups with several lasers and precise alignment of optical components. This new research brings on-chip single photon emission for quantum communication a step closer. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.
“Ultimately, we need fully integrated devices that we can control by electrical impulses, instead of a laser that focuses on different segments of an integrated circuit,” said Professor Mete Atatüre of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, one of the paper’s senior authors. “For quantum communication with single photons, and quantum networks between different nodes, we want to be able to just drive current and get light out. There are many emitters that are optically excitable, but only a handful are electrically driven.”
The layered nature of TMDs makes them ideal for use in ultra-thin structures on chips. They also offer an advantage over some other single-photon emitters for feasible and effective integration into nanophotonic circuits.
With this research, quantum emitters are now seen in another TMD material, namely tungsten disulphide (WS2). “We chose WS2 because we wanted to see if different materials offered different parts of the spectra for single photon emission,” said Atatüre, who is a Fellow of St John's College. “With this, we have shown that the quantum emission is not a unique feature of WS2, which suggests that many other layered materials might be able to host quantum dot-like features as well.”
“We are just scratching the surface of the many possible applications of devices prepared by combining graphene with other materials,” said senior co-author Professor Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene. “In this case, not only have we demonstrated controllable photon sources, but we have also shown that the field of quantum technologies can greatly benefit from layered materials. Many more exciting results and applications will surely follow.”
C. Palacios-Berraquero et al. ‘Atomically thin quantum light emitting diodes.’ Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12978
Researchers have developed all-electrical ultra-thin quantum LEDs, which have potential as on-chip photon sources in quantum information applications, including quantum networks for quantum computers.
Physicists have successfully employed a powerful technique for studying electrons generated through singlet fission, a process which it is believed will be key to more efficient solar energy production in years to come.
Their approach, reported in the journal Nature Physics, employed lasers, microwave radiation and magnetic fields to analyse the spin of excitons, which are energetically excited particles formed in molecular systems.
These are generated as a result of singlet fission, a process that researchers around the world are trying to understand fully in order to use it to better harness energy from the sun. Using materials exhibiting singlet fission in solar cells could make energy production much more efficient in the future, but the process needs to be fully understood in order to optimize the relevant materials and design appropriate technologies to exploit it.
In most existing solar cells, light particles (or photons) are absorbed by a semiconducting material, such as silicon. Each photon stimulates an electron in the material's atomic structure, giving a single electron enough energy to move. This can then potentially be extracted as electrical current.
In some materials, however, the absorption of a single photon initially creates one higher-energy, excited particle, called a spin singlet exciton. This singlet can also share its energy with another molecule, forming two lower-energy excitons, rather than just one. These lower-energy particles are called spin "triplet" excitons. Each triplet can move through the molecular structure of the material and be used to produce charge.
The splitting process - from one absorbed photon to two energetic triplet excitons - is singlet fission. For scientists studying how to generate more solar power, it represents a potential bargain - a two-for-one offer on the amount of electrical current generated, relative to the amount of light put in. If materials capable of singlet fission can be integrated into solar cells, it will become possible to generate energy more efficiently from sunlight.
But achieving this is far from straightforward. One challenge is that the pairs of triplet excitons only last for a tiny fraction of a second, and must be separated and used before they decay. Their lifespan is connected to their relative "spin", which is a unique property of elementary particles and is an intrinsic angular momentum. Studying and measuring spin through time, from the initial formation of the pairs to their decay, is essential if they are to be harnessed.
In the new study, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Freie Universität Berlin (FUB) utilised a method that allows the spin properties of materials to be measured through time. The approach, called electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy, has been used and improved since its discovery over 50 years ago to better understand how spin impacts on many different natural phenomena.
It involves placing the material being studied within a large electromagnet, and then using laser light to excite molecules within the sample, and microwave radiation to measure how the spin changes over time. This is especially useful when studying triplet states formed by singlet fission as these are difficult to study using most other techniques.
Because the excitons' spin interacts with microwave radiation and magnetic fields, these interactions can be used as an additional way to understand what happens to the triplet pairs after they are formed. In short, the approach allowed the researchers to effectively watch and manipulate the spin state of triplet pairs through time, following formation by singlet fission.
The study was led by Professor Jan Behrends at the Freie Universität Berlin (FUB), Dr Akshay Rao, a College Research Associate at St John's College, University of Cambridge, and Professor Neil Greenham in the Department of Physics, University of Cambridge.
Leah Weiss, a Gates-Cambridge Scholar and PhD student in Physics based at Trinity College, Cambridge, was the paper's first author. "This research has opened up many new questions," she said. "What makes these excited states either separate and become independent, or stay together as a pair, are questions that we need to answer before we can make use of them."
The researchers were able to look at the spin states of the triplet excitons in considerable detail. They observed pairs had formed which variously had both weakly and strongly-linked spin states, reflecting the co-existence of pairs that were spatially close and further apart. Intriguingly, the group found that some pairs which they would have expected to decay very quickly, due to their close proximity, actually survived for several microseconds.
"Finding those pairs in particular was completely unexpected," Weiss added. We think that they could be protected by their overall spin state, making it harder for them to decay. Continued research will focus on making devices and examining how these states can be harnessed for use in solar cells."
Professor Behrends added: "This interdisciplinary collaboration nicely demonstrates that bringing together expertise from different fields can provide novel and striking insights. Future studies will need to address how to efficiently split the strongly-coupled states that we observed here, to improve the yield from singlet fission cells."
Beyond trying to improve photovoltaic technologies, the research also has implications for wider efforts to create fast and efficient electronics using spin, so-called "spintronic" devices, which similarly rely on being able to measure and control the spin properties of electrons.
The research was made possible with support from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and from the Freie Universität Berlin (FUB). Weiss and colleague Sam Bayliss carried out the spectroscopy experiments within the laboratories of Professor Jan Behrends and Professor Robert Bittl at FUB. The work is also part of the Cambridge initiative to connect fundamental physics research with global energy and environmental challenges, backed by the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability.
The study, Strongly exchange-coupled triplet pairs in an organic semiconductor, is published in Nature Physics. DOI: 10.1038/nphys3908.
In a new study, researchers measure the spin properties of electronic states produced in singlet fission – a process which could have a central role in the future development of solar cells.
Professor Valerie Gibson (Cavendish Laboratory) and Dr Mateja Jamnik (Computer Laboratory) have both received a Royal Society award for their efforts to increase and advance women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
They are among four individuals and two organisations recognised by the inaugural Royal Society Athena Prize, which celebrates individuals or organisations who have contributed most to the advancement of diversity in STEM in their communities. They received their awards in a ceremony at the Royal Society’s annual diversity conference on 31 October.
Gibson (above, left) was recognised for her impact on the culture at the Cavendish Laboratory and at CERN in becoming more accepting of life beyond work and in the introduction of a child policy.
Gibson is Head of the High Energy Physics Research Group at the Cavendish Laboratory and the School of Physical Sciences Equality & Diversity Champion at Cambridge. She spearheaded the Cavendish Laboratory’s Athena Swan Gold Award in 2014. The Cavendish was the first – and remains the only – university physics department in the UK to achieve this recognition of its development of employment practices that support and further the careers of women.
Jamnik (above, right) was recognised for founding women@CL, an initiative targeted at computer science which has started to change the culture in computing departments nationwide
The purpose of the women@CL network is to put in place a positive action programme for women in computing research, with a particular focus on interdisciplinary research, leadership and enterprise. The programme consists of career development activities including regional and national workshops, mentoring and networking.
For centuries, scientists believed that light, like all waves, couldn’t be focused down smaller than its wavelength, just under a millionth of a metre. Now, researchers led by the University of Cambridge have created the world’s smallest magnifying glass, which focuses light a billion times more tightly, down to the scale of single atoms.
In collaboration with European colleagues, the team used highly conductive gold nanoparticles to make the world’s tiniest optical cavity, so small that only a single molecule can fit within it. The cavity – called a ‘pico-cavity’ by the researchers – consists of a bump in a gold nanostructure the size of a single atom, and confines light to less than a billionth of a metre. The results, reported in the journal Science, open up new ways to study the interaction of light and matter, including the possibility of making the molecules in the cavity undergo new sorts of chemical reactions, which could enable the development of entirely new types of sensors.
According to the researchers, building nanostructures with single atom control was extremely challenging. “We had to cool our samples to -260°C in order to freeze the scurrying gold atoms,” said Felix Benz, lead author of the study. The researchers shone laser light on the sample to build the pico-cavities, allowing them to watch single atom movement in real time.
“Our models suggested that individual atoms sticking out might act as tiny lightning rods, but focusing light instead of electricity,” said Professor Javier Aizpurua from the Center for Materials Physics in San Sebastian in Spain, who led the theoretical section of this work.
“Even single gold atoms behave just like tiny metallic ball bearings in our experiments, with conducting electrons roaming around, which is very different from their quantum life where electrons are bound to their nucleus,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research.
The findings have the potential to open a whole new field of light-catalysed chemical reactions, allowing complex molecules to be built from smaller components. Additionally, there is the possibility of new opto-mechanical data storage devices, allowing information to be written and read by light and stored in the form of molecular vibrations.
The research is funded as part of a UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) investment in the Cambridge NanoPhotonics Centre, as well as the European Research Council (ERC) and the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, and supported by the Spanish Council for Research (CSIC) and the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU).
Felix Benz et al. ‘Single-molecule optomechanics in ‘pico-cavities’.’ Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5243
Inset image: The presence of the sharp metal tip on a plasma sphere concentrates the electric field into its vicinity, initiating a spark. Credit: NanoPhotonics Cambridge
Using the strange properties of tiny particles of gold, researchers have concentrated light down smaller than a single atom, letting them look at individual chemical bonds inside molecules, and opening up new ways to study light and matter.
The award offers grants of up to £20,000 for University staff to fund creative projects. It aims to promote innovative practice in teaching and learning techniques by providing start-up funding for creative or exploratory initiatives ineligible for other sources of funding. Bids should focus on new approaches that enhance teaching and learning. Any innovative project will be considered – they do not need to be IT-focused. However, bids in support of developing technology to support teaching and learning are particularly welcome.
Many creative ideas have been supported by the Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TLIF) since its launch in 2011, and a list of previous winners can be found on the fund website.
Some of these have attracted further grants from external funders, allowing the academics overseeing the projects to develop their research further. Last month, two previous winners were selected to receive the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst Fund, which supports ideas that may have wider applicability across the higher education sector. Further details of these - including a collaborative learning initiative between University students and prisoners, and a virtual reality system to enable oncology students to explore the effects of radiotherapy treatment – can be found below.
The 2016-17 bidding round for this year’s TLIF closes on Monday, 23 January at 4.00pm. Staff interested in making a bid should visit the fund website or contact Melissa Rielly in the Educational and Student Policy Team for further information.
The application process for this year’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund closes later this month.
Simulating the effects of radiotherapy treatment
Two Cambridge scientists received a grant through the 2015 fund to design a virtual reality system that will allow oncology students to simulate radiotherapy cancer treatment.
Last month Dr Raj Jena, Scientific Officer in the Department of Oncology, and Mr Mark Hayes, Director of eScience in the Department of Physics, received further support from HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund, which will allow them to build the simulator and test it in the classroom from October 2017.
Dr Jena said: “Half of all cancer patients will require radiotherapy at some point in their cancer journey, and radiotherapy treatment is a complex, technologically dependent process that is hard for students to understand without direct interaction.
“By building a simulation of a virtual radiotherapy treatment unit, we can take data from a real patient and allow our students to explore the treatment process interactively and at their own pace. The simulation will enable them to work through a variety of scenarios without risk to patients, building confidence in their clinical decisions and analytical skills.”
Improving teaching and learning in universities and prisons
Staff from the Institute of Criminology launched a new educational initiative called Learning Together after receiving TLIF funding in 2015. It enables students at Cambridge and at HMP Grendon to learn criminology together and has attracted wide interest from the prison practitioner community as well as from colleagues in other disciplines at the University.
Dr Amy Ludlow and Dr Ruth Armstrong have now received a grant from the HEFCE Catalyst Fund to launch a follow-up project called ‘Pushing Boundaries’. It aims to identify effective teaching practices that can be applied in University and prison environments, based on the experiences of those participating in Learning Together.
Dr Armstrong said: “Students will be invited to evaluate their learning by sharing stories about their experiences in the classroom. Their responses will be analysed by specialist software and will help us to identify successful teaching methods and establish where improvements can be made. It might be that students in universities are being taught in a way that can be applied in the prison setting, and vice versa.
“We also hope to introduce an application so students can record their responses on a tablet during their lessons. If the process is successful then it might be something that could be used to evaluate teaching and learning across the University.”
Writing in Science this week, the team, from the University of Cambridge, the University of East Anglia and the University of Eastern Finland, describes how it developed a new type of material that uses rotatable molecules to emit light faster than has ever been achieved before. It could lead to televisions, smart-phone displays and room lights which are more power-efficient, brighter and longer lasting than those currently on the market.
Corresponding author, Dr Dan Credgington, of the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, says:
“It’s amazing that the very first demonstration of this new kind of material already beats the performance of technologies which have taken decades to develop. If the effect we have discovered can be harnessed across the spectrum, it could change the way we generate light.”
Molecular materials are the driving force behind modern organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). Invented in the 1980s, these devices emit light when electricity is applied to the organic (carbon based) molecules in them. OLED lighting is now widely used in televisions, computers and mobile phones. However it has to overcome a fundamental issue which has limited efficiency when it comes to converting electrical energy into light.
Passing an electric current through these molecules puts them into an excited state, but only 25% of these are ‘bright’ states that can emit light rapidly. The remaining 75% are ‘dark’ states that usually waste their energy as heat limiting the efficiency of the OLED device. This mode of operation produces more heat than light just like in an old fashioned filament light bulb. The underlying reason is a quantum property called ‘spin’ and the dark states have the wrong type.
One approach to tackle this problem is to use rare elements, such as iridium, which help the dark states to emit light by allowing them to change their spin. The problem is this process takes too long, so the energy tied up in the dark states can build up to damaging levels and make the OLED unstable. This effect is such a problem for blue emitting materials (blue light has the highest energy of all the colours) that, in practice, the approach can’t be used.
Dr Le Yang holding one of the most efficient OLED devices, developed in Cambridge
Chemists at the University of East Anglia have now developed a new type of material where two different organic molecules are joined together by an atom of copper or gold. The resulting structure looks a bit like a propeller. The compounds, which can be made by a simple one-pot procedure from readily available materials, were found to be surprisingly luminescent. By rotating their “propeller”, dark states formed on these materials become twisted, which allows them to change their spin quickly. The process significantly increases the rate at which electrical energy is converted into light achieving an efficiency of almost 100% and preventing the damaging build-up of dark states.
Dr Dawei Di and Dr Le Yang, from Cambridge, were co-lead authors long with Dr Alexander Romanov, from the UEA. He says:
“Our discovery that simple compounds of copper and gold can be used as bright and efficient materials for OLEDs demonstrates how chemistry can bring tangible benefits to society. All previous attempts to build OLEDs based on these metals have led to only mediocre success. The problem is that those materials required the sophisticated organic molecules to be bound with copper but has not met industrial standards. Our results address an on-going research and development challenge which can bring affordable high-tech OLED products to every home.”
Computational modelling played a major role in uncovering this novel way of harnessing intramolecular twisting motions for energy conversion.
Professor Mikko Linnolahti, of the University of Eastern Finland, where this was done, comments:
“This work forms the case study for how we can explain the principles behind the functioning of these new materials and their application in OLEDS.”
The next step is to design new molecules that take full advantage of this mechanism, with the ultimate goal of removing the need for rare elements entirely. This would solve the longest standing problem in the field – how to make OLEDs without having to trade-off between efficiency and stability.
Co-lead author, Dr Dawei Di, of the Cavendish Laboratory, says:
“Our work shows that excited-state spin and molecular motion can work together to strongly impact the performance of OLEDs. This is an excellent demonstration of how quantum mechanics, an important branch of fundamental science, can have direct consequences for a commercial application which has a massive global market.”
Dawei Di et al: “High-performance light-emitting diodes based on carbene-metal-amides” is published in Science 30th March 2017
Scientists have discovered a group of materials which could pave the way for a new generation of high-efficiency lighting, solving a quandary which has inhibited the performance of display technology for decades. The development of energy saving concepts in display and lighting applications is a major focus of research, since a fifth of the world’s electricity is used for generating light.
The researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick, have developed a wire made from a single string of tellurium atoms, making it a true one-dimensional material. These one-dimensional wires are produced inside extremely thin carbon nanotubes (CNTs) – hollow cylinders made of carbon atoms. The finished ‘extreme nanowires’ are less than a billionth of a metre in diameter – 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.
A single string of atoms is as small as materials based on elements in the periodic table can get, making them potentially useful for semiconductors and other electronic applications. However, these strings can be unstable, as their atoms are constantly vibrating and, in the absence of a physical constraint, they can end up morphing into some other structure or disintegrating entirely.
According to the Cambridge researchers, encapsulating the nanowires is not only a useful method of making stable one-dimensional (1D) materials, it may be necessary to prevent them from disintegrating. The researchers have also shown that it is possible to alter the shape and electronic behaviour of the nanowires by varying the diameters of the tubes which encapsulate them. Their results are reported in the journal ACS Nano.
To make electronics faster and more powerful, more transistors need to be squeezed onto semiconductor chips. For the past 50 years, the number of transistors on a single chip has doubled every two years – this is known as Moore’s law. However, we are getting close to the limit of how small a transistor can be before quantum effects associated with individual atoms and electrons start to interfere with its normal operation. Researchers are currently investigating various ways of keeping up with Moore’s law, and in turn keeping up with our desire for faster, cheaper and more powerful electronics. One-dimensional materials could be one of the solutions to the challenge of miniaturisation.
The Cambridge researchers first used computer simulations to predict the types of geometric structures that would form if tellurium atoms were injected into nanotubes, and found that 1D wires could exist in such a scenario.
Later, lab-based tests, using the most advanced techniques for the synthesis and atomic-resolution visualisation of such extreme materials, were performed by the Warwick researchers to confirm the theoretical predictions. Not only were the researchers able to successfully ‘build’ stable 1D wires, but they found that changing the diameter of the nanotubes lead to changes in the properties of tellurium.
Tellurium normally behaves as a semiconductor, but when injected into carbon nanotubes and confined to one dimension, it starts behaving like a metal. Additionally, while the confinement provided by the CNTs can induce drastic changes in the way that tellurium behaves, the nanotubes themselves do not interact in any other way with the tellurium nanowires.
“When working with materials at very small scales such as this, the material of interest typically needs to be deposited onto a surface, but the problem is that these surfaces are normally very reactive,” said Paulo Medeiros of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, and the paper’s first author. “But carbon nanotubes are chemically quite inert, so they help solve one of the problems when trying to create truly one-dimensional materials.
“However, we’re just starting to understand the physics and chemistry of these systems – there’s still a lot of basic physics to be uncovered.”
Paulo V. C. Medeiros et al. 'Single-Atom Scale Structural Selectivity in Te Nanowires Encapsulated Inside Ultranarrow, Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes.' ACS Nano (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b02225
Researchers have developed the world’s thinnest metallic nanowire, which could be used to miniaturise many of the electronic components we use every day.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) has made a third detection of gravitational waves, ripples in space and time, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened. As was the case with the first two detections, the waves were generated when two black holes collided to form a larger black hole.
The newfound black hole formed by the merger has a mass about 49 times that of our sun. “With this third confirmed detection we are uncovering the population of black holes in the Universe for the first time,” said Christopher Moore from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP), who is part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
The new detection occurred during LIGO’s current observing run, which began November 30, 2016, and will continue through the summer. LIGO is an international collaboration with members around the globe. Its observations are carried out by twin detectors—one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated by Caltech and MIT with funding from the United States National Science Foundation (NSF).
The LIGO group in Cambridge consists of seven researchers spread across DAMTP, the Cavendish Laboratory and the Institute of Astronomy.
“Answering key questions about the formation history of astrophysical black holes and their role in the evolution of the universe critically relies on applying a statistical analysis to a sufficiently large sample of observations,” said Dr Ulrich Sperhake, head of the group in DAMTP. “Each new detection not only strengthens our confidence in the theoretical modelling, but enables us to explore new phenomena of these mysterious and fascinating objects.”
One of the interests of the Cambridge group is testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity. “This particular source of gravitational waves is the furthest detected so far. This allows us to test our understanding of the propagation of gravitational waves across cosmological distances, by means of which we constrained any signs of wave dispersion to unprecedented precision,” said Dr Michalis Agathos, a postdoctoral researcher at DAMTP.
The LIGO-Virgo team is continuing to search the latest LIGO data for signs of space-time ripples from the far reaches of the cosmos. They are also working on technical upgrades for LIGO’s next run, scheduled to begin in late 2018, during which the detectors’ sensitivity will be further improved.
“With the third confirmed detection of gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes, LIGO is establishing itself as a powerful observatory for revealing the dark side of the universe,” said David Reitze of Caltech, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory. “While LIGO is uniquely suited to observing these types of events, we hope to see other types of astrophysical events soon, such as the violent collision of two neutron stars.”
LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and operated by MIT and Caltech, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the UK (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,000 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. LIGO partners with the Virgo Collaboration, a consortium including 280 additional scientists throughout Europe supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), and Nikhef, as well as Virgo’s host institution, the European Gravitational Observatory. Additional partners are listed at: http://ligo.org/partners.php.
Results confirm new population of black holes.
Chemotherapy benefits a great many patients but the side effects can be brutal.
When a patient is injected with an anti-cancer drug, the idea is that the molecules will seek out and destroy rogue tumour cells. However, relatively large amounts need to be administered to reach the target in high enough concentrations to be effective. As a result of this high drug concentration, healthy cells may be killed as well as cancer cells, leaving many patients weak, nauseated and vulnerable to infection.
One way that researchers are attempting to improve the safety and efficacy of drugs is to use a relatively new area of research known as nanothrapeutics to target drug delivery just to the cells that need it.
Professor Sir Mark Welland is Head of the Electrical Engineering Division at Cambridge. In recent years, his research has focused on nanotherapeutics, working in collaboration with clinicians and industry to develop better, safer drugs. He and his colleagues don’t design new drugs; instead, they design and build smart packaging for existing drugs.
Nanotherapeutics come in many different configurations, but the easiest way to think about them is as small, benign particles filled with a drug. They can be injected in the same way as a normal drug, and are carried through the bloodstream to the target organ, tissue or cell. At this point, a change in the local environment, such as pH, or the use of light or ultrasound, causes the nanoparticles to release their cargo.
Nano-sized tools are increasingly being looked at for diagnosis, drug delivery and therapy. “There are a huge number of possibilities right now, and probably more to come, which is why there’s been so much interest,” says Welland. Using clever chemistry and engineering at the nanoscale, drugs can be ‘taught’ to behave like a Trojan horse, or to hold their fire until just the right moment, or to recognise the target they’re looking for.
“We always try to use techniques that can be scaled up – we avoid using expensive chemistries or expensive equipment, and we’ve been reasonably successful in that,” he adds. “By keeping costs down and using scalable techniques, we’ve got a far better chance of making a successful treatment for patients.”
In 2014, he and collaborators demonstrated that gold nanoparticles could be used to ‘smuggle’ chemotherapy drugs into cancer cells in glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer in adults, which is notoriously difficult to treat. The team engineered nanostructures containing gold and cisplatin, a conventional chemotherapy drug. A coating on the particles made them attracted to tumour cells from glioblastoma patients, so that the nanostructures bound and were absorbed into the cancer cells.
Once inside, these nanostructures were exposed to radiotherapy. This caused the gold to release electrons that damaged the cancer cell’s DNA and its overall structure, enhancing the impact of the chemotherapy drug. The process was so effective that 20 days later, the cell culture showed no evidence of any revival, suggesting that the tumour cells had been destroyed.
While the technique is still several years away from use in humans, tests have begun in mice. Welland’s group is working with MedImmune, the biologics R&D arm of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, to study the stability of drugs and to design ways to deliver them more effectively using nanotechnology.
“One of the great advantages of working with MedImmune is they understand precisely what the requirements are for a drug to be approved. We would shut down lines of research where we thought it was never going to get to the point of approval by the regulators,” says Welland. “It’s important to be pragmatic about it so that only the approaches with the best chance of working in patients are taken forward.”
The researchers are also targeting diseases like tuberculosis (TB). With funding from the Rosetrees Trust, Welland and postdoctoral researcher Dr Íris da luz Batalha are working with Professor Andres Floto in the Department of Medicine to improve the efficacy of TB drugs.
Their solution has been to design and develop nontoxic, biodegradable polymers that can be ‘fused’ with TB drug molecules. As polymer molecules have a long, chain-like shape, drugs can be attached along the length of the polymer backbone, meaning that very large amounts of the drug can be loaded onto each polymer molecule. The polymers are stable in the bloodstream and release the drugs they carry when they reach the target cell. Inside the cell, the pH drops, which causes the polymer to release the drug.
In fact, the polymers worked so well for TB drugs that another of Welland’s postdoctoral researchers, Dr Myriam Ouberaï, has formed a start-up company, Spirea, which is raising funding to develop the polymers for use with oncology drugs. Ouberaï is hoping to establish a collaboration with a pharma company in the next two years.
“Designing these particles, loading them with drugs and making them clever so that they release their cargo in a controlled and precise way: it’s quite a technical challenge,” adds Welland. “The main reason I’m interested in the challenge is I want to see something working in the clinic – I want to see something working in patients.”
Could nanotechnology move beyond therapeutics to a time when nanomachines keep us healthy by patrolling, monitoring and repairing the body?
Nanomachines have long been a dream of scientists and public alike. But working out how to make them move has meant they’ve remained in the realm of science fiction.
But last year, Professor Jeremy Baumberg and colleagues in Cambridge and the University of Bath developed the world’s tiniest engine – just a few billionths of a metre in size. It’s biocompatible, cost-effective to manufacture, fast to respond and energy efficient.
The forces exerted by these ‘ANTs’ (for ‘actuating nano-transducers’) are nearly a hundred times larger than those for any known device, motor or muscle. To make them, tiny charged particles of gold, bound together with a temperature-responsive polymer gel, are heated with a laser. As the polymer coatings expel water from the gel and collapse, a large amount of elastic energy is stored in a fraction of a second. On cooling, the particles spring apart and release energy.
The researchers hope to use this ability of ANTs to produce very large forces relative to their weight to develop three-dimensional machines that swim, have pumps that take on fluid to sense the environment and are small enough to move around our bloodstream.
Working with Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, the team in Cambridge's Nanophotonics Centre hopes to commercialise the technology for microfluidics bio-applications. The work is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council.
“There’s a revolution happening in personalised healthcare, and for that we need sensors not just on the outside but on the inside,” explains Baumberg, who leads an interdisciplinary Strategic Research Network and Doctoral Training Centre focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology.
“Nanoscience is driving this. We are now building technology that allows us to even imagine these futures.”
Read more about research on future therapeutics in Research Horizons magazine.
Nanotechnology is creating new opportunities for fighting disease – from delivering drugs in smart packaging to nanobots powered by the world’s tiniest engines.
The smallest star yet measured has been discovered by a team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge. With a size just a sliver larger than that of Saturn, the gravitational pull at its stellar surface is about 300 times stronger than what humans feel on Earth.
The star is likely as small as stars can possibly become, as it has just enough mass to enable the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. If it were any smaller, the pressure at the centre of the star would no longer be sufficient to enable this process to take place. Hydrogen fusion is also what powers the Sun, and scientists are attempting to replicate it as a powerful energy source here on Earth.
These very small and dim stars are also the best possible candidates for detecting Earth-sized planets which can have liquid water on their surfaces, such as TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool dwarf surrounded by seven temperate Earth-sized worlds.
The newly-measured star, called EBLM J0555-57Ab, is located about six hundred light years away. It is part of a binary system, and was identified as it passed in front of its much larger companion, a method which is usually used to detect planets, not stars. Details will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
“Our discovery reveals how small stars can be,” said Alexander Boetticher, the lead author of the study, and a Master’s student at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Institute of Astronomy. “Had this star formed with only a slightly lower mass, the fusion reaction of hydrogen in its core could not be sustained, and the star would instead have transformed into a brown dwarf.”
EBLM J0555-57Ab was identified by WASP, a planet-finding experiment run by the Universities of Keele, Warwick, Leicester and St Andrews. EBLM J0555-57Ab was detected when it passed in front of, or transited, its larger parent star, forming what is called an eclipsing stellar binary system. The parent star became dimmer in a periodic fashion, the signature of an orbiting object. Thanks to this special configuration, researchers can accurately measure the mass and size of any orbiting companions, in this case a small star. The mass of EBLM J0555-57Ab was established via the Doppler, wobble method, using data from the CORALIE spectrograph.
“This star is smaller, and likely colder than many of the gas giant exoplanets that have so far been identified,” said von Boetticher. “While a fascinating feature of stellar physics, it is often harder to measure the size of such dim low-mass stars than for many of the larger planets. Thankfully, we can find these small stars with planet-hunting equipment, when they orbit a larger host star in a binary system. It might sound incredible, but finding a star can at times be harder than finding a planet.”
This newly-measured star has a mass comparable to the current estimate for TRAPPIST-1, but has a radius that is nearly 30% smaller. “The smallest stars provide optimal conditions for the discovery of Earth-like planets, and for the remote exploration of their atmospheres,” said co-author Amaury Triaud, senior researcher at Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. “However, before we can study planets, we absolutely need to understand their star; this is fundamental.”
Although they are the most numerous stars in the Universe, stars with sizes and masses less than 20% that of the Sun are poorly understood, since they are difficult to detect due to their small size and low brightness. The EBLM project, which identified the star in this study, aims to plug that lapse in knowledge. “Thanks to the EBLM project, we will achieve a far greater understanding of the planets orbiting the most common stars that exist, planets like those orbiting TRAPPIST-1,” said co-author Professor Didier Queloz of Cambridge’ Cavendish Laboratory.
Alexander von Boetticher et al. ‘A Saturn-size low-mass star at the hydrogen-burning limit.’ Astronomy & Astrophysics (2017). arXiv:1706.08781
A star about the size of Saturn – the smallest ever measured – has been identified by astronomers.
The announcement was made at a prize ceremony held at the Old Schools on 13 July. At the same event, one of Cambridge’s leading experts on EU law – and in particular, Brexit – received one of the Vice Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards for her work around the EU Referendum.
Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, says: “I would like to offer my warm congratulations to the recipients of our Impact and Public Engagement Awards. These are outstanding examples that reflect the tremendous efforts by our researchers to make a major contribution to society.”
Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards
The Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards were established to recognise and reward those whose research has led to excellent impact beyond academia, whether on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life. Each winner receives a prize of £1,000 and a trophy, with the overall winner - Dr Alexander Patto from the Department of Physics – receiving £2,000.
This year’s winners are:
Overall winner: Dr Alexander Patto (Department of Physics)
Using an open-source flexure microscope, spin-out company WaterScope is developing rapid, automated water testing kits and affordable diagnostics to empower developing communities. Its microscopes are being used for education, to inspire future scientists from India to Colombia. Its open-source microscope is supporting local initiatives, with companies such as STIClab in Tanzania making medical microscopes from recycled plastic bottles.
Elroy Dimson (Judge Business School)
‘Active Ownership’: Engaging with investee companies on environmental and social issues
‘Active Ownership’ refers to commitment by asset owners and their portfolio managers to engage with the businesses they own, focusing on issues that matter to all stakeholders and to the economy as a whole, including environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns. By providing evidence to guide ESG strategy, Professor Dimson’s research has had a substantial impact on investment policy and practice.
Professor Nick Morrell (Department of Medicine)
From genetics to new treatments in pulmonary arterial hypertension
Severe high blood pressure in the lungs, known as idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension, is a rare disease that affects approximately 1,000 people in the UK. The condition usually affects young women and average life expectancy is three to five years. Existing treatments improve symptoms but have little impact on survival. Professor Morrell has introduced routine genetic testing for this condition, and found that one in four patients carry a particular genetic mutation associated with more severe disease and worse survival. His research has identified new ways to treat the disease, the most promising of which is being commercialised through a university spin-out biotech company.
Professor Lawrence Sherman, Peter Neyroud, Dr Barak Ariel, Dr Cristobal Weinborn and Eleanor Neyroud (Institute of Criminology)
Cambridge Crime Harm Index
The Cambridge Crime Harm Index is a tool for creating a single metric for the seriousness of crime associated with any one offender, victim, address, community, or prevention strategy, supplementing traditional measures giving all crimes equal weight. The UK Office of National Statistics credits the index as the stimulus to institute its own, modified version from 2017. Police use the Cambridge index to target highest-harm offenders, victims, places, times and days, differences in crime harm per capita differs across communities or within them over time, adding precision to decisions for allocating scarce resources in times of budget cuts.
Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards
The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards were set up to recognise and reward those who undertake quality engagement with research. Each winner receives a £1000 personal cash prize and a trophy. This year’s winners are:
Professor Catherine Barnard (Faculty of Law)
In the run up to the EU membership referendum Professor Barnard developed a range of outputs to explain key issues at stake including migration, which forms the basis of her research, in addition to the wider EU law remit. Harnessing the timeliness of the political climate, Barnard’s videos, online articles, radio and TV interviews have supported her engagement across 12 town hall events from Exeter to Newcastle, an open prison and round-table discussions with various public groups. She has also provided a number of briefing sessions to major political party MPs and peers. She has become a trusted public figure, and researcher, on EU law, Brexit and surrounding issues, ensuring that the voices of those key to the research process are heard and listened to.
Dr Elisa Laurenti (Wellcome/MRC Stem Cell Institute and Department of Haematology)
Dr Laurenti has engaged over 2,500 people, at six separate events, with her Stem Cell Robots activity. She collaborated with a researcher in educational robotics to produce this robot-based activity, which maps a stem cell’s differentiation to become a specific cell type. The activity has provided a platform for children, families and adults to discuss ethics and clinical applications of stem cell research.
Dr Nai-Chieh Liu (Department of Veterinary Medicine)
Dr Liu has developed a non-invasive respiratory function test for short-skulled dog breeds, including French bulldogs and pugs, which suffer from airway obstruction. She has engaged with dog owners by attending dog shows, dog club meetings and breeders’ premises to break down barriers between publics and veterinarians working to improve the health of these dogs. As a result of this engagement, the UK French bulldog club and the Bulldog Breed Council have adopted health testing schemes based on Dr Liu’s research.
Dr Neil Stott and Belinda Bell (Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, Judge Business School)
Dr Stott and Miss Bell established Cambridge Social Ventures to embed research around social innovation into a practical workshop to support emerging social entrepreneurs. Since the first workshop in 2014, they have reached almost 500 people wanting to create social change by starting and growing a business. The team goes to considerable efforts to reach out to participants from non-traditional backgrounds and to ensure workshops are inclusive and accessible to a wide range of people by incorporating online engagement with work in the community.
Amalia Thomas (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics)
Amalia Thomas researches photoelasticity, a property by which certain materials transmit light differently when subjected to a force. Amalia has developed an engaging exhibition for secondary school students comprising interactive elements, which uses photoelasticity to visualise force, work and power.
Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch, Jane Kennet and Katerina Anselmiova (Department of Medicine and Department of Clinical Biochemistry)
Since the commencement of their research programme to develop drugs for Type 1 Diabetes, Dr Waldron-Lynch, Ms Kennet and Ms Anselmiova have developed a public engagement programme to engage participants, patients, families, funders, colleagues, institutions, companies and the community, with the aim of ensuring that their research remains relevant to stakeholder needs. Amongst their outputs, the team has formed a patient support group in addition to developing an online engagement strategy through social media platforms. Most recently, they have collaborated with GlaxoSmithKline to offer patients the opportunity to participate in clinical studies at all stages of their disease.
An open source, 3D-printable microscope that forms the cornerstone of rapid, automated water testing kits for use in low and middle-income countries, has helped a Cambridge researcher and his not-for-profit spin-out company win the top prize in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards at the University of Cambridge.
The team of researchers, from the University of Cambridge and the United States, have used theoretical and experimental methods to show how bismuth – the so-called “green element” which sits next to lead on the periodic table, could be used in low-cost solar cells. Their results, reported in the journal Advanced Materials, suggest that solar cells incorporating bismuth can replicate the properties that enable the exceptional properties of lead-based solar cells, but without the same toxicity concerns. Later calculations by another research group showed that bismuth-based cells can convert light into energy at efficiencies up to 22%, which is comparable to the most advanced solar cells currently on the market.
Most of the solar cells which we see covering fields and rooftops are made from silicon. Although silicon is highly efficient at converting light into energy, it has a very low “defect tolerance”, meaning that the silicon needs to have very high levels of purity, making it energy-intensive to produce.
Over the past several years, researchers have been looking for materials which can perform at similar or better levels to silicon, but that don’t need such high purity levels, making them cheaper to produce. The most promising group of these new materials are called hybrid lead halide perovskites, which appear to promise a revolution in the field of solar energy.
As well as being cheap and easy to produce, perovskite solar cells have, in the space of a few years, become almost as energy-efficient as silicon. However, despite their enormous potential, perovskite solar cells are also somewhat controversial within the scientific community, since lead is integral to their chemical structure. Whether the lead contained within perovskite solar cells represents a tangible risk to humans, animals and the environment is being debated, however, some scientists are now searching for non-toxic materials which could replace the lead in perovskite solar cells without negatively affecting performance.
“We wanted to find out why defects don’t appear to affect the performance of lead-halide perovskite solar cells as much as they would in other materials,” said Dr Robert Hoye of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, and the paper’s lead author. “If we can figure out what’s special about them, then perhaps we can replicate their properties using non-toxic materials.”
In collaboration with colleagues at MIT, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Colorado School of Mines in the US, the Cambridge researchers have shown that bismuth, which sits next to lead in the periodic table, could be a non-toxic alternative to lead for use in next-generation solar cells. Bismuth, known as the “green element”, is widely used in cosmetics, personal care products and medicines. Like lead, it is a heavy metal, but it is non-toxic.
For this study, Hoye and his colleagues looked at bismuth oxyiodide, a material which was previously investigated for use in solar cells and water splitting, but was not thought to be suitable because of low efficiencies and because it degraded in liquid electrolytes. The researchers used theoretical and experimental methods to revisit this material for possible use in solid-state solar cells.
They found that bismuth oxyiodide is as tolerant to defects as lead halide perovskites. Bismuth oxyiodide is also stable in air for at least 197 days, which is a significant improvement over some lead halide perovskite compounds. By sandwiching the bismuth oxyiodide light absorber between two oxide electrodes, they were able to demonstrate a record performance, with the device converting 80% of light to electrical charge.
The bismuth-based devices can be made using common industrial techniques, suggesting that they can be produced at scale and at low cost.
“Bismuth oxyiodide has all the right physical property attributes for new, highly efficient light absorbers,” said co-author Professor Judith Driscoll, of the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy. “I first thought of this compound around five years ago, but it took the highly specialised experimental and theoretical skills of a large team for us to prove that this material has real practical potential.”
“This work shows that earlier theories about bismuth oxyiodide were not wrong, and these compounds do have the potential to be successful solar cells,” said Hoye, who is a Junior Research Fellow at Magdalene College. “We’re just scratching the surface of what these compounds can do.”
“Previously, the global solar cell research community has been searching for non-toxic materials that replicate the defect tolerance of the perovskites, but without much success in terms of photovoltaic performance,” said Dr David Scanlon, a theorist at UCL not involved in this work. “When I saw this work, my team calculated based on the optical properties that bismuth oxyiodide has a theoretical limit of 22% efficiency, which is comparable to silicon and the best perovskite solar cells. There’s a lot more we could get from this material by building off this team’s work.”
Robert Hoye et al. ‘Strongly Enhanced Photovoltaic Performance and Defect Physics of Air-Stable Bismuth Oxyiodide (BiOI).’ Advanced Materials (2017). DOI: 10.1002/adma.201702176
Researchers have demonstrated how a non-toxic alternative to lead could form the basis of next-generation solar cells.
The international team of researchers demonstrated in 2016 that defects in the crystalline structure of perovskites could be healed by exposing them to light, but the effects were temporary.
Now, an expanded team, from Cambridge, MIT, Oxford, Bath and Delft, have shown that these defects can be permanently healed, which could further accelerate the development of cheap, high-performance perovskite-based solar cells that rival the efficiency of silicon. Their results are reported in the inaugural edition of the journal Joule, published by Cell Press.
Most solar cells on the market today are silicon-based, but since they are expensive and energy-intensive to produce, researchers have been searching for alternative materials for solar cells and other photovoltaics. Perovskites are perhaps the most promising of these alternatives: they are cheap and easy to produce, and in just a few short years of development, perovskites have become almost as efficient as silicon at converting sunlight into electricity.
Despite the potential of perovskites, some limitations have hampered their efficiency and consistency. Tiny defects in the crystalline structure of perovskites, called traps, can cause electrons to get “stuck” before their energy can be harnessed. The easier that electrons can move around in a solar cell material, the more efficient that material will be at converting photons, particles of light, into electricity.
“In perovskite solar cells and LEDs, you tend to lose a lot of efficiency through defects,” said Dr Sam Stranks, who led the research while he was a Marie Curie Fellow jointly at MIT and Cambridge. “We want to know the origins of the defects so that we can eliminate them and make perovskites more efficient.”
In a 2016 paper, Stranks and his colleagues found that when perovskites were exposed to illumination, iodide ions – atoms stripped of an electron so that they carry an electric charge – migrated away from the illuminated region, and in the process swept away most of the defects in that region along with them. However, these effects, while promising, were temporary because the ions migrated back to similar positions when the light was removed.
In the new study, the team made a perovskite-based device, printed using techniques compatible with scalable roll-to-roll processes, but before the device was completed, they exposed it to light, oxygen and humidity. Perovskites often start to degrade when exposed to humidity, but the team found that when humidity levels were between 40 and 50 percent, and the exposure was limited to 30 minutes, degradation did not occur. Once the exposure was complete, the remaining layers were deposited to finish the device.
When the light was applied, electrons bound with oxygen, forming a superoxide that could very effectively bind to electron traps and prevent these traps from hindering electrons. In the accompanying presence of water, the perovskite surface also gets converted to a protective shell. The shell coating removes traps from the surfaces but also locks in the superoxide, meaning that the performance improvements in the perovskites are now long-lived.
“It’s counter-intuitive, but applying humidity and light makes the perovskite solar cells more luminescent, a property which is extremely important if you want efficient solar cells,” said Stranks, who is now based at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. “We’ve seen an increase in luminescence efficiency from one percent to 89 percent, and we think we could get it all the way to 100 percent, which means we could have no voltage loss – but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
The research was funded by the European Union, the National Science Foundation, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Roberto Brenes et al. ‘Metal Halide Perovskite Polycrystalline Films Exhibiting Properties of Single Crystals.’ Joule (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2017.08.006
Researchers have shown that defects in the molecular structure of perovskites – a material which could revolutionise the solar cell industry – can be “healed” by exposing it to light and just the right amount of humidity.
This week, UK Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson signed the agreement with the US Energy Department to invest the sum in the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). DUNE will study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos, which could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.
This latest investment is part of a long history of UK research collaboration with the US, and is the first major project of the wider UK-US Science and Technology agreement.
On signing the agreement in Washington DC, UK Science Minister, Jo Johnson said: “Our continued collaboration with the US on science and innovation is beneficial to both of our nations and through this agreement we are sharing expertise to enhance our understanding of many important topics that have the potential to be world changing.
“The UK is known as a nation of science and technical progress, with research and development being at the core of our industrial strategy. By working with our key allies, we are maintaining our position as a global leader in research for years to come.”
“The international DUNE collaboration came together to realise a dream of a game-changing program of neutrino science; today’s announcement represents a major milestone in turning this dream into reality,” said Professor Thomson. “This UK investment in fundamental science will enable us to deliver critical systems to the DUNE experiment and to provide new opportunities for the next generation of scientists to work at the forefront of science and technology.”
This investment is a significant step which will secure future access for UK scientists to the international DUNE experiment. Investing in the next generation of detectors, like DUNE, helps the UK to maintain its world-leading position in science research and continue to develop skills in new cutting-edge technologies.
The UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will manage the UK’s investment in the international facility, giving UK scientists and engineers the chance to take a leading role in the management and development of the DUNE far detector and the LBNF beam line and associated PIP-II accelerator development.
Accompanying Jo Johnson on the visit to the US, Chief Executive Designate at UK Research and Innovation, Sir Mark Walport said: “Research and innovation are global endeavours. Agreements like the one signed today by the United Kingdom and the United States set the framework for the great discoveries of the future, whether that be furthering our understanding of neutrinos or improving the accessibility of museum collections.
“Agreements like this also send a clear signal that UK researchers are outward looking and ready to work with the best talent wherever that may be. UK Research and Innovation is looking forward to extending partnerships in science and innovation around the world.”
DUNE will be the first large-scale US-hosted experiment run as a truly international project at the inter-governmental level, with more than 1,000 scientists and engineers from 31 countries building and operating the facility, including many from the UK. The US is meeting the major civil construction costs for conventional facilities, but is seeking international partners to design and build major elements of the accelerator and detectors. The total international partner contributions to the entire project are expected to be about $500M.
The UK research community is already a major contributor to the DUNE collaboration, with 14 UK universities and two STFC laboratories providing essential expertise and components to the experiment and facility. This ranges from the high-power neutrino production target, the readout planes and data acquisitions systems to the reconstruction software.
Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of STFC, said:“This investment is a significant and exciting step for the UK that builds on UK expertise.
“International partnerships are the key to building these world-leading experiments, and the UK’s continued collaboration with the US, through STFC, demonstrates that we are the science partner of choice in such agreements.
“I am looking forward to seeing our scientists work with our colleagues in the US in developing this experiment and the exciting science which will happen as a result.”
One aspect DUNE scientists will look for is the differences in behaviour between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why we live in a matter-dominated universe – in other words, why we are all here, instead of having been annihilated just after the Big Bang. DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.
The DUNE experiment will attract students and young scientists from around the world, helping to foster the next generation of leaders in the field and to maintain the highly skilled scientific workforce worldwide.
The Cambridge team is playing a leading role in the development of the advanced pattern recognition and computational techniques that will be needed to interpret the data from the vast DUNE detectors.
Other than Cambridge, the UK universities involved in the project are Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, Lancaster, Liverpool, UCL, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield, Sussex and Warwick.
Adapted from an STFC press release.
The UK is investing £65 million in a flagship global science project based in the United States that could change our understanding of the universe, securing the UK’s position as the international research partner of choice. Professor Mark Thomson from the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory has been the elected co-leader of the international DUNE collaboration since its inception and is the overall scientific lead of this new UK initiative.
Storage and distribution of energy is seen as the missing link between intermittent renewable energy and reliability of supply, but current technologies have considerable room for improvements in performance. Speakers at the annual symposium, which is free and open to the public, will discuss some of the new technologies in this important area, and how understanding the basic science of these can accelerate their development.
“As intermittent forms of renewable energies continue to contribute to a larger share of our energy mix, there is an urgent need to store and efficiently distribute energy to ensure the lights stay on,” said Dr Nalin Patel, Winton Programme Manager at the University of Cambridge.
The one-day event is an opportunity for students, researchers and industrialists from a variety of backgrounds to hear a series of talks given by world-leading experts and to join in the debate. Speakers at the event will include Professor Harold Wilson, Programme Director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority; Professor Katsuhiko Hirose, Professional Partner at Toyota Motor Corporation; and Professor David Larbalestier, Director of the Applied Superconductivity Center, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University. The full programme of speakers is available online.
The symposium is organised by Professor Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics and Director of the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability and Dr Nalin Patel the Winton Programme Manager.
There is no registration fee for the symposium and complimentary lunch and drinks reception will be provided, however participants are required to register online. The event is open for all to attend.
The sixth annual Winton Symposium will be held on 9 November at the University’s Cavendish Laboratory on the theme of Energy Storage and Distribution.
In a new film to coincide with the recent launch of the Cambridge Academy of Therapeutic Sciences, researchers discuss some of the most exciting developments in medical research and set out their vision for the next 50 years.
Professor Jeremy Baumberg from the NanoPhotonics Centre discusses a future in which diagnoses do not have to rely on asking a patient how they are feeling, but rather are carried out by nanomachines that patrol our bodies, looking for and repairing problems. Professor Michelle Oyen from the Department of Engineering talks about using artificial scaffolds to create ‘off-the-shelf’ replacement organs that could help solve the shortage of donated organs. Dr Sanjay Sinha from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Stem Cell Institute sees us using stem cell ‘patches’ to repair damaged hearts and return their function back to normal.
Dr Alasdair Russell from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute describes how recent breakthroughs in the use of CRISPR-Cas9 – a DNA editing tool – will enable us to snip out and replace defective regions of the genome, curing diseases in individual patients; and lawyer Dr Kathy Liddell, from the Cambridge Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences, highlights how research around law and ethics will help to make gene editing safe.
Professor Gillian Griffiths, Director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, envisages us weaponising ‘killer T cells’ – important immune system warriors – to hunt down and destroy even the most evasive of cancer cells.
All of these developments will help transform the field of medicine, says Professor Chris Lowe, Director of the Cambridge Academy of Therapeutic Sciences, who sees this as an exciting time for medicine. New developments have the potential to transform healthcare “right the way from how you handle the patient to actually delivering the final therapeutic product - and that’s the exciting thing”.
Read more about research on future therapeutics in Research Horizons magazine.
Nanobots that patrol our bodies, killer immune cells hunting and destroying cancer cells, biological scissors that cut out defective genes: these are just some of technologies that Cambridge researchers are developing which are set to revolutionise medicine in the future.