Tag: cambridge

Britexit slashes UK science funding

mad scientistUK boffins are being told to leave EU science projects because the country has decided that it can do all that sort of thing itself.

The UK’s science efforts received a huge chunk of funding from the EU, and was involved with a large number of joint projects but now it looks like the boffins are being told to walk away.

Fortunately, the UK government has piles of money which is why it is talking about flogging off the NHS and cutting back on education programmes.

Theoretically the UK should be fine at the moment, after all the country has not actually decided to follow the Brexit referendum and leave the EU, but apparently the EU has unleashed a wave of discrimination against UK researchers, with elite universities in the country coming under pressure to abandon collaborations with European partners.

In a confidential survey of the UK’s Russell Group universities, British academics are being asked to leave EU-funded projects or to step down from leadership roles because they are considered a financial liability.

For example an EU project officer recommended that a lead investigator drop all UK partners from a consortium because Britain’s share of funding could not be guaranteed. The note implied that if UK organisations remained on the project, which is due to start in January 2017, the contract signing would be delayed until Britain had agreed a fresh deal with Europe.

British researchers receive about £1bn a year from EU finding programmes such as Horizon 2020, but access to the money must be completely renegotiated under Brexit and is unlikely to happen.

The 24 universities in the Russell Group are regarded as Britain’s elite institutions. With Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, University College London and Imperial College among their number, they are renowned for world-class research and academic excellence.

New EU projects are reluctant to be in collaboration with UK partners, and that potentially all new funding opportunities from Horizon 2020 are closing”.

At least two social science collaborations with Dutch universities have been told UK partners are unwelcome, one Russell Group university said in the survey.

Speaking at Oxford’s Wolfson College last Friday, the university’s chancellor, Chris Patten, said Oxford received perhaps more research income than any European university, with about 40% coming from government. “Our research income will of course fall significantly after we have left the EU unless a Brexit government guarantees to cover the shortfall,” Lord Patten said.

Still a least we will not have the EU telling us what to do.  We will have an elected, democratic leader like Teresa May.  Oh..

Screen time is killing kids’ grades

76817It looks like the grades of the kids of today are suffering because of their dependence on gadgets.

A Cambridge University report, published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity found that teens who spend an extra hour a day surfing the internet, watching TV or playing computer games risked performing two grades worse in exams than their peers who don’t.

A study of more than 800 students aged 14 and 15, also found that physical activity had no effect on academic performance, thus confirming that psychopathic PE teachers were the chocolate teapots of academia.

Researchers followed the pupils over time to see how different behaviours affected performance.

The scientists said it was reasonable to conclude that too much screen time reduced academic achievement.

Kirsten Corder of Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research, who co-led the work said that it is possible to reasonably suggest that screen time may be damaging to a teenager’s grades.

The study found the average amount of screen time per day was four hours.

An extra hour in front of the TV or online at age 14-and-a-half was linked with 9.3 fewer exam points at age 16 — equivalent to two grades, for example from a B to a D. Two extra hours was linked to 18 fewer points.

Pupils doing an extra hour of daily homework and reading scored better had averages of 23.1 more points than their peers.

Further research was needed to confirm the effect conclusively, but advised parents worried about their children’s grades to consider limiting screen time.

It is not all tablets and mobiles though. TV was the most detrimental in terms of exam performance.

Inkjet can print eye cells

Neuroscientists at Cambridge University have come up with a more interesting use for their Inkjet printer other than printing photos of the lab’s Christmas party.

According to the British journal Biofabrication, which we get for the spot the fabrication competition, the team used an inkjet printer to print cells from the eye, making a practical step in the quest to grow replenishment tissue for damaged or diseased organs.

Researchers at England’s extracted two types of cells from rat retinas and squirted them through a printer nozzle to see if they survived.

Apparently the rats’ retinas were healthy after being “printed,” retaining their ability to survive and grow.

What the Cambridge boffins Keith Martin and Barbara Lorber believe is that they could use this technique to build artificial tissue in layers.

This is the first time that the technology has been used to successfully print mature cells from the central nervous system, the scientists said. They cautioned, however, that much work lay ahead.

What they want to do is build retinal tissue for people suffering from degenerative diseases of the eye as the loss of nerve cells in the retina is a feature of many blinding eye diseases.

“The retina is an exquisitely organised structure, where the precise arrangement of cells in relation to one another is critical for effective visual function,” they said in a press release.

The team used a piezoelectric inkjet printer head, which expelled so-called glia cells and retinal ganglion cells from adult lab rats through a single nozzle less than one millimetre (0.04 of an inch) across.

Inkjet fluid has a narrow margin of error in terms of viscosity and surface tension before it stops working. Adding cells to the liquid had the potential to make a real mess.

The only thing wrong with the technique is that there was a large loss in the number of cells sinking to the bottom of the fluid reservoir where they could not be printed. The cells that were printed were undamaged and could grow. 

AstraZeneca to slash jobs

AstraZeneca has become the latest company to issue P45s.

The drugs company, which recently obtained a £5 million government grant to expand its  Alderley Park research and development centre has said it will be slicing jobs.

It will be closing the Alderley Park R&D facility, which will mark the loss of 550 jobs there and 150 elsewhere in the UK over the next three years.

A further 1,600  jobs are also at risk, with the company also announcing these will be moved   from the Cheshire centre to Cambridge where Astra is relocating its headquarters and creating a new £330 million R&D centre.

It said it had chosen the new site as the town offered Cambridge University, local hospitals and biotech companies, which offered a talent pool and opportunities for collaboration.

It added that by 2016, the new site was expected to house a “highly-skilled workforce” of approximately 2,000.

AstraZeneca tried to soften the blow, claiming in a statement that it would continue to have a strong presence in the North West with some 3,000 employees at Alderley Park, its Macclesfield manufacturing site and the MedImmune vaccine manufacturing facility in Speke.

It is just over a year since the company, which employs 6,700 workers at eight UK sites, announced 7,300 job cuts as part of a cost-cutting drive.

ARM spearheads Internet of Things standard

Chip designer ARM has given its support to a Special Interest Group (SIG) with the aim of accelarating adoption for the open standards internet of things organisation Weightless.

Along with CSR, Neul, and Cable & Wireless Worldwide, ARM signed the SIG Promoter Agreement which provides some details on how the group plans to back Weightless’ mission for a new open standard, planned to be completed at the start of next year.

Weightless is a white space machine-to-machine (M2M) standards body based in Cambridge. It hopes to bring the industry together to push development for a new communication standard, also called Weightless, for M2M communications in white space, and is in the process of signing up members.

According to ARM, the SIG is a significant milestone in building a standard for M2M and the internet of things. It wants to be meet the demands of embedded intelligence everywhere, which it argues will create efficiencies by giving the world access to data along with the tools to use that data and act on it in a managed way.

As part of the plans, the group hopes to agree on a common set of standards including a chipset that costs under $2 with a range of up to 10km and a battery life of 10 years.

ARM CTO Mike Muller promoted his company’s designs as well positioned to bring about the technological changes necessary for the internet of things. “As data levels soar across the world, new ways need to be found to ensure wireless communication can be seamless,” Muller said. He finished by saying that with common standards, all will benefit from M2M, so ARM is excited about the potential of the standard.

Cambridge scientists print lasers

Regular inkjet technology could be used to print sheets of lasers onto any surface, thanks to research from Cambridge University.

Lasers are generally produced on silicon wafers, using similar processes to that of chip manufacturers.  These are then used for a variety of applications, from reading data on a Blu-ray disk, to beaming data across the world in high speed internet connections, not to mention wider medical uses.

With a new production technique involving printing laser producing material, scientists could enable these many applications and more with greater ease, using any material as a surface.

Cambridge University researchers used materials known as chiral nematic liquid crystals (LCs), similar to that found in LCD televisions, to create the lasers. These photonic materials are able to produce laser light when placed under the correct conditions, such as when the scientists add a fluorescent dye.  

While it has been possible to create this effect in labs previously, production methods have been overly complex, involving printing on substrates such as glass and silicon.  However Cambridge scientists have now created a way to print small dots of LCs using standard inkjet technology

By printing onto a polymer surface scientists have the ability to print on almost any surface, even flexible ones, producing tuneable laser sources, and high resolution laser displays. Medical applications using the patented printing system are also being touted, according to the university.

Whitespace internet tests declared successful by tech consortium

Testing ‘white spaces’ to provide wireless internet connections has been declared successful by a group including Microsoft, Samsung and Nokia.

The Cambridge TV Whitespace Consortium has been looking at a range of technologies aimed at using spaces in the TV spectrum which can be used for applications such as rural broadband or B2B communications.  Trials have been ongoing in and around Cambridge.

The consortium is now recommending to Ofcom that the regulatory body goes ahead with the system, with a view to further innovation in opening up spectrum to meet rising wireless demands.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey welcomed the development, after the trial analysis showed that Cambridge has significant TV whitespace capacities.   

20 white space channels corresponding to 160 megahertz were found in total, of which 13 were allowed in the test licence from Ofcom.  These can now be used to augment existing broadband networks, or extend access to rural notspots.

The consortium also hit the pubs and theatres of Cambridge, setting up basestations to provide better coverage, including pop-up hotspots. This could help offload mobile broadband data and extend access.

Others involved in the consortium includes: Adaptrum, Alcatel-Lucent, Arqiva, BBC, BSkyB, BT, Cambridge Consultants, CRFS, CSR plc., Digital TV Group (DTG), Microsoft, Neul, Nokia, Samsung, Spectrum Bridge, The Technology Partnership (TTP) and Virgin Media.

Apple threatens to kill Evi

Apple is furious that a Cambridge-based upstart has produced a better version of voice activated service Siri and is threatening to pull it from the App Store.

Evi was placed on Apple’s App Store and the technology it has is better at handling British accents and providing regional information. Siri, which means “arse” in Japanese, can’t look at the British map, or refer you to British businesses, and refuses to tell you how to get an abortion. It is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Apple wants the British to put on an American accent to use the States-centric app, which is still in beta and can’t understand a word they say.

William Tunstall-Pedoe, chief executive of True Knowledge, which makes the app, told the Guardian that he had been contacted by an Apple representative and was told that Evi would be pulled.

Tunstall-Pedoe confirmed to the Guardian that Evi was “being reviewed” under condition 8.3 of the App Store’s terms and conditions, which bans apps that appear “confusingly similar to an existing Apple product”.

Evi is similar to Siri in that both offer voice-driven speech analysis to find data to help users. Siri is embedded into the iPhone 4S.

Evi uses the same speech recognition system, Nuance, as Siri, but depends on its own set of servers rather than those in Apple’s walled garden of delights. Tunstall-Pedoe said that he was waiting for further information from Apple, which had not responded to a request for information.

Evi has been popular on both Apple and Android stores. Having been available for three weeks, it is approaching half a million downloads.

The Android version is free because it uses Google’s voice recognition system, but the iPhone version costs 69p, which is supposed to cover the cost of the Nuance voice recognition system.

We have given Evi a go on Android and it’s quite good.

Blue photon discovery offers huge solar efficiency boost

Squabbling over solar subsidies could be a thing of the past if Cambridge researchers can successfully bring new high efficiency cells out from the lab and onto our roofs.

A significant jump in efficiency has been made that could see a 25 percent increase in energy transferred .

According to researchers at Cambridge University, the use of organic semiconductor materials in the production of solar cells has allowed more energy from the sun to be transferred into electricity than before.

By absorbing more of the light spectrum they believe the maximum possible efficiency rates could jump to 44 percent, up from 34 percent. In reality this could prove trickier as current solar cells are a long way from maximum efficiency levels.

But the method used by researchers has certainly opened up the door to significant increases in energy output.

This is because they have managed to harness the energy from blue photons that emanate as light from the sun.   Up until now, the blue photons have been lost to heat as sun rays hit solar panel rather than feeding in to lower your ‘leccy bill, with red photons more easily captured.

The addition of an organic semiconductor material called pentacene means that blue photons can be picked up, with two electrons produced for every blue photon that hits the solar cell.

Using the thin film, cells would have a number of advantages over bulky silicon based cells, though the main problem has been that they are unable to match efficiency levels.

But if it is possible to push up efficiency then it will mean that having to shell out for expensive silicon photovoltaic panels will not be necessary. Neither too would a feed in tariffs from DECC with the ability to save cash quickly increased.

One of the report authors, Dr. Akshay Rao, said the announcement was a “step towards a new generation of solar cells”.

Another of the scientists involved in the research, Bruno Ehrler, told TechEye that it will be a while still before the groundbreaking new cells are adorning our houses: “The hybrid solar cells we have made are in an early stage, in fact these are the first of their kind,” he told us. “So it is very difficult to estimate which way they take into commercialisation.”

Eight19, a production company spin off from Cambridge University, has agreed to manufacture the cells if they are found to be commercially viable.

“However,” Ehrler said, “in order to assess that we need to investigate the devices further. This might take 2-3 years.

“The route of commercialisation might also be a different one, e.g. augmenting conventional silicon solar cells with our organic material, pentacene, to harvest more of the energy of the blue photons.”

It is in thin film cells that the team are hoping to see development.

“Our materials can be dissolved and used as in ink in a roll-to-roll printing,” Ehrler says. “This allows for large scale production as well as for a variety of shapes and sizes and the production of flexible solar cells. The size and shape of a conventional silicon solar cell is pretty much fixed.”




Cambridge company touts dinky wi-fi femtocell

Small cell manufacturer and annoyingly titled Cambridge company ip.access thinks it has just the ticket for femtocells.

The company has drummed up something called the Advanced Femtocell Concept, or AFC, which it says is roughly the size of a smartphone – and adds a bunch of features that it hopes will encourage femtocell adoption at home and at work, or elsewhere.

This device sports wi-fi backhaul and integrated GPS, which means you can place the product anywhere you like. It can either be attached to the broadband router or placed on a docking station which connected back to the router through wi-fi. 

The point is to untether it from the broadband, so you can bung it anywhere you like to benefit from strong siglan and network coverage within its reach. CTO Nick Johnson reckons other femtocell manufacturers are missing the point – saying that integrating femtocells into home gateways and set top boxes means you’re tethered to the home broadband connection. That can also be expensive, he says, because each box costs the same whether or not the user is taking advantage of femtocells too.

Which means, of course, ip.access has clocked the better option with its portable device – easily lost down the back of the sofa, the AFC gives living room cushions excellent connectivity.

Johnson thinks sticking a battery into the AFC would be useful for, say, public wi-fi. If the carrier agrees, the thing can be used with any wi-fi connection, so on the move with GPS enabled would mean being able to – in theory – run at connection speeds found in the broadband router at home. 

In a statement, the CTO claims the AFC would “be the ultimate in personal metro zone hot spots,” though we’re not quite sure what that means.