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Dr Vanessa Marcie is teaching the power of humour in leadership

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 10, 2020.

Executive MBA (EMBA) alumna Dr Vanessa Marcie is helping leaders build better relationships through her training and coaching startup. In 2016, Dr …

CSP partners with Caroline Fiennes on COVID-19 philanthropy research

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 09, 2020.

The Centre for Strategic Philanthropy has partnered with Caroline Fiennes, the Director of Giving Evidence, to study the response of philanthropy to …

Dr. Jingyuan Xu receives the Carl von Linde IIR Young Researchers Award

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jul 08, 2020.

Dr. Jingyuan Xu, a postdoctoral research fellow from the Reacting Flows group led by Professor Simone Hochgreb, has been awarded the Carl von Linde IIR Young Researcher Award, the highest award for young researchers in the field of cryogenic engineering.

On The Move

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jul 06, 2020.

Many of us spend time plugged into our headphones. But could they be doing more than streaming music - such as making us healthier and happier? This is one project being explored here in a collaboration with Nokia Bell Labs.

Racism & inequality: ‘a good time to act’

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 06, 2020.

Society must actively combat racism and inequality because a ‘passive approach’ simply won’t work, says Kamal Munir of Cambridge Judge Business School. …

Virtual Open Days

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jul 06, 2020.

Computer Science students at the University of Cambridge

If you missed the Virtual Open Days we held last week, there are further opportunities to find out what it’s like to study Computer Science here.

Venturing forth: mine&make

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 06, 2020.

Automotive engineer Gauthier Boisdequin turned to entrepreneurship after studying for his Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge: mine&make seeks new applications and new …

Counting issues

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 06, 2020.

Coronavirus deaths and swelling public sector debt share a data-quality problem, writes Dr Marion Boisseau-Sierra, University Lecturer in Accounting at Cambridge Judge. …

The digital divide of Latin America

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 06, 2020.

A blog on connectivity in Latin America by José F. Otero, a student on the MSt in Social Innovation programme. Written by …

The many shapes of Cambridge Judge Business School engagement in challenging times

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 03, 2020.

At Cambridge Judge Business School, we pride ourselves in our commitment to engaging with businesses, policy-makers and civil-society organisations. We believe that …

CSP to produce COVID-19 industry report

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 03, 2020.

The Centre for Strategic Philanthropy is producing an industry report that will assess initial responses to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis by the …

Helping women harness their potential as leaders in times of crisis

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 02, 2020.

Recent research published by UN Women and the World Bank has highlighted how women represent 70 per cent of the global health …

Flu and coronavirus

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 02, 2020.

The COVID-19 death rate is higher in European countries with a low flu intensity since 2018, says a working paper by Chris …

Capturing changing activity in London as lockdown eases

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jul 02, 2020.

Cambridge researchers are part of a collaborative project tasked with developing models, infrastructure and machine learning algorithms for capturing mobility, transportation and traffic activity in London, as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown eases.

Superb teaching

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

Eight members of the Cambridge Judge faculty are awarded Teaching Prizes for excellence across the School’s programmes. Eight members of the Cambridge …

Dr Kamal Munir moderating EGOS panel on inequality in organisations

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

Dr Kamal Munir, Academic Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, will be moderating a sub-plenary at the Annual Meeting of the …

Organisational culture matters

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

There are some key techniques to help an organisation’s culture survive despite staff working remotely, Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville of Cambridge Judge says …

Startup innovation boost

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

£100,000-plus Innovate UK boost for two cutting-edge startups. The UK government recently announced that 800 innovative businesses and startups are set to …

Case study on off-grid solar lighting wins marketing award

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

Neil Davey, alumnus of CJBS, wins a marketing award through the case study he co-authored with Professor Jaideep Prabhu on Azuri. Writing …

Quicker response in a crisis

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

“Frugal innovation” can help governments respond better to the COVID-19 pandemic, says article co-authored by Professor Jaideep Prabhu in Stanford Social Innovation …

Holographic beam shaping to deliver a boost to metallic 3D printing

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jul 01, 2020.

Cambridge engineers have begun a three-year research programme to help speed up the manufacture of metallic 3D printed parts and products, by using computer-generated holography.

Extraordinary teaching

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jun 30, 2020.

Dr Jane Davies awarded Pilkington Prize for teaching excellence by the University of Cambridge. Dr Jane Davies, Faculty (Professor level) in Management …

Biotech vs big pharma

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jun 30, 2020.

Most approved “priority” medicines are developed by biotech rather than large pharmaceutical firms, says a two-decade study at the University of Cambridge …

Schmidt Data for Science Residency Programme

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 30, 2020.

We are offering PhDs and postdocs in science disciplines across Cambridge a free 'Data for Science' training course this summer.

CSP Executive Director talks impact at the American University in Cairo’s Gerhart Centre

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jun 29, 2020.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP), Clare Woodcraft, spoke on 2 July on the importance of research in …

An MBA during global upheaval – COVID-19 vs 2008

From CJBS InsightCJBS Insight. Published on Jun 29, 2020.

How one Cambridge MBA’s experience in 2008 reveals lessons for MBAs of today: for Marina Maslowski Marsat (MBA 2008), embarking on the …

PhD team to help refugee camps contain COVID-19

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 29, 2020.

A team of 3 PhD students have been awarded business-led innovation funding by Innovate UK.

Funding awarded for nanomanufacturing research to support a faster transition to electric vehicles

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 25, 2020.

Dr Michaël De Volder, Reader in Nanomanufacturing, has been awarded funding of two million euros from the European Research Council (ERC) to manufacture Li-Ion batteries with enhanced energy and power density for use in electric vehicles.

Promotions for five Department members

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 24, 2020.

Following their promotion, we have two new Readers and three new Professors in this department. Our congratulations to all five of them.

Dr Stuart Scott receives Pilkington Prize for his teaching excellence

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 24, 2020.

Congratulations to Dr Stuart Scott, Reader in Sustainable Energy, in the Department of Engineering, for the award of a Pilkington Prize, the University’s highest recognition for outstanding contribution in the field of teaching.

New programme to accelerate AI research capability at Cambridge

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 22, 2020.

A new initiative at Cambridge will equip young researchers outside computer science with the skills they need to use machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to power their research.

Speech research group success at INTERSPEECH 2020

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 22, 2020.

A team from Professor Mark Gales' Speech Research Group and the ALTA Institute recently took part in the INTERSPEECH 2020 Shared Task on Automatic Speech Recognition for Non-Native Children's Speech.

Meet Amanda Prorok, robot trainer

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 18, 2020.

Image of Dr Amanda Prorok

Dr Amanda Prorok has just won an Amazon Research Award for her work on ways to induce artificially intelligent agents - like robots and driverless cars - to achieve common goals while working in shared spaces.  

Striking differences revealed in COVID-19 mortality between NHS trusts

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 18, 2020.

A University of Cambridge team led by Professor Mihaela van der Schaar and intensive care consultant Dr Ari Ercole of the Cambridge Centre for AI in Medicine (CCAIM) is calling for urgent research into the striking differences in COVID-19 deaths they have discovered between the intensive care units of NHS trusts across England.

Tech firms are winning the AI race because they understand data – other sectors need to catch up

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 17, 2020.

Dr Didem Gurdur Broo, Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), writes for The Conversation on how traditional companies need to embrace high-quality data gathering to avoid being left behind by the next industrial revolution.

Understanding 'fairness' in machine learning algorithms

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 16, 2020.

Image of PhD student Michelle Seng Ah Lee

When more and more decisions in business are informed by machines and models, fairness seems important. Aviva PhD student Michelle Seng Ah Lee is trying to understand how fairness can be reflected in the algorithms used by businesses.

Helping make future technologies more secure

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 15, 2020.

Two research teams here are among the recipients of a £10 million government investment in 'Digital Security by Design' - a programme aiming to help the tech infrastructure of UK organisations and digital devices be more resilient to cyber attacks

CISL Director Dame Polly Courtice appointed as Board Advisor to BSI

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Jun 12, 2020.

12 June 2020 – BSI, the business improvement company, today announced the appointment of CISL Director Dame Polly Courtice as Board Advisor with effect from 1 June 2020.

Join our Virtual Open Days on 2-3 July 2020

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 11, 2020.

The Department of Engineering will host Virtual Open Days on 2-3 July 2020 aimed at prospective applicants in Year 12 (or equivalent), in conjunction with the Cambridge Open Days. Parents/guardians and supporters are also invited to attend.

New assessment guide aims to help farmers monitor soil health

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Jun 10, 2020.

10 June 2020 – The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has played a role in developing an assessment tool to enable farmers to monitor and manage the soil health of their farms.

University spin-out Flusso raises $5.7m Series A to disrupt $8bn flow monitoring market

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 10, 2020.

Semiconductor company Flusso has raised a $5.7 million Series A funding round to scale up production of the world’s smallest flow sensor.

We’re old hands at new-style teaching

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 08, 2020.

The news that large lectures will be delivered online, rather than in person, next year has raised some concerns. But it's not new for us to offer students a mix of recorded lectures and face-to-face teaching: it's something we started doing 50 years ago.

MRC Fellowship awarded to Cambridge neuroscientist for research into pain

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 08, 2020.

Dr Flavia Mancini has been announced a Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Fellow and will establish her first independent research group, tasked with improving our understanding of the brain mechanisms that mediate pain.

A good egg: robot chef trained to make omelettes

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 03, 2020.

A team of engineers have trained a robot to prepare an omelette, all the way from cracking the eggs to plating the finished dish, and refined the ‘chef’s’ culinary skills to produce a reliable dish that actually tastes good.

Lockdown 'helps fuel rise in cybercrime'

By Rachel Gardner from News. Published on Jun 02, 2020.

While lockdown has helped reduce the spread of the coronavirus, it is also helping fuel a rise in cybercrime. That's the warning from researchers in the Cambridge Cybercrime Centre here.

Engineering students’ social impact recognised by the Vice-Chancellor

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on Jun 01, 2020.

Students from the Department of Engineering are among the winners of the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards 2020. One prize went to a group of Masters students for their efforts in supporting Addenbrooke’s Hospital during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the other prize was awarded to a student for his commitment to and involvement in sustainability projects.

George Malliaras receives an honorary doctorate from the University of Linköping, Sweden

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on May 27, 2020.

George Malliaras, the Prince Philip Professor of Technology has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University. 

A new approach to addressing gender bias in machine translation

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on May 26, 2020.

Cambridge PhD student Danielle Saunders is studying machine translation systems with the aim of reducing instances of gender bias by “fine-tuning”, rather than retraining the language output. It forms a growing area of research which poses wider questions to do with gender stereotyping in society. 

Professor of Healthcare Systems, John Clarkson joins the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at TUDelft

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on May 20, 2020.

At a time in which the world’s healthcare systems are being challenged in ways never seen before, the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), is strengthening its team with an outstanding new member.  John Clarkson, Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Cambridge has been appointed as part-time full professor at IDE, joining Professor Richard Goossens’ team. 

Gates Cambridge Scholars 2020

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on May 14, 2020.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is one of the world's most sought after awards. The scholarship programme was established in 2000 after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge to fund an international postgraduate scholarship programme for students who are both academically outstanding and show a strong commitment to improving the lives of others. It remains the largest single donation to a UK university.

Professor Vikram Deshpande is awarded the 2020 Rodney Hill Prize in Solid Mechanics

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on May 07, 2020.

The International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and Elsevier jointly announced the award of the 2020 Rodney Hill Prize in Solid Mechanics to Professor Vikram Sudhir Deshpande. 

Students from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership advise Jesus College on improving the sustainability of its historic estate

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on May 06, 2020.

6 May 2020 – Students from the MSt Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) course run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) have been working with Jesus College Cambridge to consider how to manage its historic estate to achieve ambitious sustainability targets for the future.

Funding secured for research aimed at improving construction using Digital Twins

By Department of Engineering from Department of Engineering - Latest news. Published on May 06, 2020.

Dr Ioannis Brilakis, Director of the Department’s Construction Information Technology (CIT) Lab group (part of the Laing O’Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology) and visiting Professor Rafael Sacks, have been awarded grant funding to enhance building progress monitoring and quality control through Digital Building Twins.​

The Future we Want: Global call for questions

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on May 04, 2020.

4 May 2020 – The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) is inviting leaders in business, government, civil society and academia to identify and debate the critical questions that need to be answered in order to enhance our understanding and improve decision-making to secure the Future we Want.

New briefing paper warns Biodiversity Strategy is test of EU understanding of nature's role in successful Green Deal

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Apr 30, 2020.

30 April 2020 – As the coronavirus crisis continues to take a terrible toll on lives and livelihoods worldwide, the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has warned the EU's forthcoming Biodiversity Strategy will be a test of whether Europe is taking nature, including biodiversity, seriously in its economic thinking.

Gillian Secrett joins CISL to head Leadership Programmes portfolio

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Apr 29, 2020.

April 2020 – Gillian Secrett has joined the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) Education team to head a new Leadership Programmes portfolio, which puts sustainability at its core.

Covid-19 and creating the future we want

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Apr 02, 2020.

2 April 2020 – Dame Polly Courtice, Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), reflects upon the impact of Covid-19 on business, society, and our collective future.

Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors Scholarship launched for IDBE Master of Studies

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Apr 01, 2020.

1 April 2020 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and the Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors are delighted to announce the launch of a new scholarship for Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) Master's students.

Free support offered to SMEs to help innovate and redress supply chain shocks

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Mar 31, 2020.

31 March 2020 – A new Accelerator run by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) is offering free support to help SMEs rapidly innovate during the Covid-19 crisis.

Remembering José Lopez - CISL Fellow and former COO of Nestlé SA

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Mar 31, 2020.

31 March 2020 – We are very sad to report the passing of José Lopez, CISL Fellow and Former COO and Member of the Executive Board of Nestlé SA, following a brave battle against cancer.

Coronavirus/Covid-19

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Mar 17, 2020.

17 March 2020 – CISL is very closely monitoring and actively responding to developments relating to the spread of the novel coronavirus. We know that we, like everyone else, will have to make alternative arrangements for many of our planned activities in the weeks and months ahead.

Pomeroy Academy Scholarship launched for Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment

From Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Published on Feb 26, 2020.

February 2020 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and Professor Jason Pomeroy are delighted to announce the launch of a new scholarship for prospective Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) Master's students.

Skilling up, smart

By sc604 from News feed generator. Published on Mar 04, 2019.

Five years ago, 3D printing was hailed as a technology that would fundamentally transform the way that most things are made: the hype cycle was in full gear. Breathless columns were written about a world where Star Trek-style replicators would be in every home, and no less a figure than former US President Barack Obama claimed that 3D printing would change manufacturing forever.

Fast-forward a few years and, while 3D printing has advanced rapidly, many companies still aren’t sure whether they should use it, how they should use it and what skills they need to use it effectively.

Tim Minshall, the Dr John C Taylor Professor of Innovation and Head of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), likes to use the example of 3D printing to illustrate the challenge that the East of England – and the UK at large – has with skills. With funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), he has been studying the potential impact of 3D printing on companies of all sizes, including some in the local region.

When a new technology is developed, among the first questions often asked are: how many jobs will it create as new business opportunities are realised, and how many people need to be trained to capture these opportunities? But according to Minshall, when it comes to acquiring the right skills to best exploit new technologies, those are the wrong questions.

“New technologies come along and we think we need new skills to be developed to use them when the truth is, it’s knowledge about these technologies that needs to be developed – and that’s a more difficult problem,” he says.

“If you’re a small manufacturing firm, and you’ve been doing business in a broadly similar way for decades, and then someone comes along and tells you that you need to get on board with this new technology or you’ll be left behind, how do you know whether that’s actually true? Should you buy the new solution that’s being offered to you, and if you do, do you need to retrain all your staff, or even recruit new staff, to make sure you’ve got the skills to be able to use it?”

According to Minshall, companies need to be asking who needs to know about the technology, and what they need to know.

“If a company invests in a new technology but hasn’t thought about these issues, it could be a disaster for their business,” says Minshall. “We run research projects that aim to help companies of all shapes and sizes, but in particular smaller ones, to develop the skills and capabilities they need to adapt to these technologies.”

Minshall’s colleague Professor Duncan McFarlane is working on such a project. Also funded by the EPSRC and in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, the three-year Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project is looking to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) use digital information to enhance their manufacturing operations.

“In Cambridge and the surrounding area, there are two fundamentally different types of SMEs: the small manufacturers who make things and the solution providers. The programme aims to support both of these types of SMEs.”

One of the aims of the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project is to provide SMEs locally and across the country with the building blocks to make the right solutions for them.

“We want to get straight to the heart of the digital challenges that manufacturing SMEs are trying to overcome,” says McFarlane. “SMEs want inexpensive and easy digital manufacturing solutions: they haven’t got large specialised IT departments. There are numerous examples of companies investing into digital solutions which turn out to be no benefit at all because they haven’t been developed in line with their needs, and they haven’t got the right skills to use them effectively. And if we can engage local IT solution providers in developing these right solutions then it will be a double win!”

UK government policy is focused on improving productivity through its Industrial Strategy, which is “backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure.”

McFarlane says that the approach he and his team are developing could help manufacturers be more effective, which could, in turn, help productivity numbers. “We’re approaching SMEs who have productivity challenges to help them understand to what extent digital or automated solutions could help them if they can afford them, and then we are helping them piece together low-cost automation solutions,” he says. “In particular, we are making use of non-industrial digital technologies – low-cost computing, WiFi cameras, voice recognition systems – because they are cheap and getting cheaper.”

While the Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project is fundamentally research, McFarlane says there is also a technology transfer aspect to their work, as they try to find the best fits between the digital requirements of different types of SMEs and the low-cost solutions under development.

In 2016, in collaboration with the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, researchers from Cambridge’s Centre for Science, Technology & Innovation Policy (CSTI) in the IfM developed and ran a pilot project that also tried to match up skills and industries, but with a policy slant. Their case study for this ‘industrial-innovation system’ approach was Agri-Tech East, a membership organisation comprising farmers, growers, scientists and entrepreneurs in the East of England focused on innovation in agri-tech.

“We wanted to quantify what this region is really good at in order to drive innovation,” says Dr Carlos López-Gómez, who led the research and is currently Head of the Policy Links Unit at IfM. “In the East of England, we tend to focus on our strengths in science and assume that new industries will flow from that. But, quite often, innovations come from established industries. Our approach allows for a better alignment between distinctive regional capabilities and promising areas for future specialisation.”

According to López-Gómez, priorities for existing regional innovation strategies are too generic and don’t give enough consideration to existing regional economic and innovation structures, or are simply replicated from elsewhere.

For the pilot project involving Agri-Tech East, the researchers found that modern industries increasingly cut across sectors and technologies. By carrying out a comprehensive mapping exercise, they identified various opportunities in the East of England’s agri-tech sector. These were in the arable and horticultural crop sectors, across various stages of the value chain, and were in a combination of disciplines, in particular, plant sciences and engineering. Five ‘smart specialisation’ opportunities, including robotics, remote sensing and smart irrigation, were selected for further analysis.

“Claiming you are world class in everything will not be believed, and therefore in an emerging sector like agri-tech it is vital that we collectively agree where our real strengths lie,” says Martin Collison from regional consultancy firm Collison and Associates Limited, who participated in the pilot project. “The Cambridge-led project brought together a wide cross-section of partners to identify where the East of England has particular strengths in agri-tech, and this will support our ability to attract companies and investment to the area.”

“At the end of the day, digital manufacturing and other emerging technologies are just another tool in the toolbox, but they do raise a lot of interesting business and policy issues,” says Minshall. “By looking at those issues, we realise that there are all sorts of problems that require regional and national-level solutions. One of the most important of these is how do we know what skills are needed by who and how they get them. Technology is moving so fast, and businesses want to find the areas where it will be of most benefit to their particular situation.”

Read more about our research linked with the East of England in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

Businesses need the skills to adapt to new technologies, such as 3D printing, but when they emerge fast and change quickly, how do workforces plan for the future? University researchers are collaborating with small and medium-sized enterprises in the region to help find the best upskill strategies for driving innovation. 

Technology is moving so fast... how do we know what skills are needed by who and how they get them?
Tim Minshall
Printer 3D technology

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Quantum leap

By sc604 from News feed generator. Published on Feb 06, 2019.

When buying an item online, we voluntarily hand over our credit card information. But how do we know that it’s safe? Most sensitive information sent over the internet is secured through encryption, a process that converts information into a code that can only be unlocked by those with the encryption key. Currently, encryption keys are essentially impossible to break with conventional computing equipment – it would simply take too long and too much computing power to do the mathematical calculations that could reveal the key.

But in the coming decades, all that could change. Google, IBM and many other companies are all working to build a quantum computer that would outperform contemporary computers by taking advantage of the ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at a time. A quantum computer could enable us to make calculations and solve problems that are well out of reach of even the most powerful supercomputers, but in the wrong hands, they could also crack encryption keys with relative ease.

So how can individuals, corporations and governments keep information safe in the face of this potential threat?

A group of researchers in Cambridge’s Department of Engineering are working to defend against the security threats posed by quantum computers by developing ‘unhackable’ encryption keys hidden inside particles of light, or photons, and sent over optical fibres.

Quantum keys are generated randomly through quantum mechanics, taking advantage of a property of photons that prevents them being cloned. The real strength of quantum links, however, is that if an attacker attempts to intercept the key, the quantum state of the photons changes and they cannot be used as part of the key, rendering the information carried by the stolen photons worthless.

“This means that we can send single photons over our networks and end up with keys at each end which are fundamentally secure,” says Professor Ian White, Head of the Photonics group in Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

In June 2018, White and his colleagues Professor Richard Penty and Dr Adrian Wonfor started putting these ideas into practice with the launch of the UK’s first quantum network. The ‘metro’ network provides secure quantum communications between the University’s Electrical Engineering Division in West Cambridge, the city centre and Toshiba Research Europe Ltd (TREL) on the Cambridge Science Park. It was built with corporate partners including ADVA and Toshiba.

The network has since been extended and connected to other sites around the country, including BT’s research and development centre in Ipswich, and is currently being extended to the National Physical Laboratory in London and the University of Bristol, creating the first UK quantum network.

The quantum network is a project of the Quantum Communications Hub, a consortium of eight UK universities led by the University of York, as well as private sector companies and public sector stakeholders. It’s funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme.

“This network provides us with a UK facility where we can test ideas that until now have been research-based, and to get users used to the concepts behind quantum communications so they can translate this technology into practice,” says Penty. “There’s a world of difference between transmitting quantum keys over a coil of fibre in the lab and actually putting it in the ground.”

The network has the highest quantum key rate in the world. This secures a data network in Cambridge that runs at roughly five times the capacity of the entire University network, and the link to BT in Ipswich operates at five times that again. The link to BT is comparable with the highest data capacity links in the UK, and has the possibility for scale-up in future.

“For us, it’s really important to get this right as it’s our first chance to start doing very detailed studies and see how these systems really work in the field,” says White. “This is only the start, however.”

In addition to the continued growth and development of the quantum network, the researchers are also investigating other ways that quantum technology could be used to secure information. For example, instead of counting individual photons, it could be possible to measure the amplitude and phase properties of pulses. “This way, you could use a type of hardware that’s not so different from conventional networks, so it would dramatically reduce the cost,” says Wonfor. “In theory, this would represent a huge step towards commercialising quantum technology, because it would effectively rely on technology that people are already used to.”

The researchers are also looking at turning the entire concept on its head, and instead of relying on quantum mechanics for encryption key distribution, it could be used as a type of quantum alarm. In this scenario, the quantum signal would be in the background, buried inside a classical data signal, and would detect when an intruder attempts to break into the fibre.

“At the moment, it’s not easy to detect whether someone is tapping into the actual fibre, but with this kind of system working at the level of single photons, it would be much easier to do,” says Penty.

Another possibility is that of an entirely optical quantum-secured network. The Cambridge researchers have been developing optical switches that work with quantum signals so that everything stays in the optical domain. “Effectively, this would mean that quantum IP routers should be possible, a concept that is now testable thanks to the quantum network,” says Wonfor.

So where else might quantum encryption be used? According to White, it could go into space. At the moment, quantum keys can be distributed up to a maximum distance of approximately 100 km of fibre, which is why the quantum network is built on a series of nodes, with a new quantum key being generated at each node. This setup works well in urban areas with a high number of users but is not ideal for rural areas with few users. It also makes it impractical to send a quantum link across the Atlantic.

“An interesting movement within the field of quantum communications is to start involving satellites so that you could produce a quantum communications link for two remote sites,” says White. These satellites would work in parallel with fibre networks, sending quantum links to one of the trusted nodes within the network, where they could be managed, stored and distributed as needed.

The Cambridge group, along with several other academic and industrial collaborators, have recently secured several parallel funding bids from Innovate UK to develop both lower cost terrestrial and space-based quantum communications.

“The main thrust of all of this work has been to develop technologies that can be commercialised and put into regular use,” says White. “Cybersecurity is such an important issue, and we think that the laws of physics can be used to make our data transmission as secure as possible.”

Cambridge researchers are devising new methods to keep sensitive information out of the hands of hackers. They launched the UK’s first ‘unhackable’ network – made safe by the “laws of physics” – in 2018. 

It’s really important to get this right as it’s our first chance to start doing very detailed studies and see how these systems really work in the field
Ian White

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New video game teaches teens about electricity

By sc604 from News feed generator. Published on Jul 24, 2018.

The game, called Wired, is available to download and play for free from today, and teaches the key mathematical concepts underpinning electricity. Electricity affects all of us every day, but is difficult to teach as it is abstract, difficult to visualise and requires lots of practice to master.

“A video game is an ideal way to teach students about electricity as it allows players to visualise the underlying concepts and the relationships between them,” said Diarmid Campbell from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, and the game’s designer. “It provides a structure for incremental challenges, each one building on previous ones, and there is a set of tried and tested motivational techniques that can encourage people to push through tricky areas.”

Campbell spent close to two decades in the gaming industry, developing titles for PlayStation, Xbox and PC. He is now a senior teaching associate at Cambridge, and develops video games to inspire more teenagers to study engineering.

Players of Wired will get an intuitive understanding of circuits, the logic of switches, voltage, current and resistance. They do this not by analysing circuits, as in textbooks, but by wiring up circuits to solve problems.

“Most educational games are delivered through the classroom and only need to be more fun than the lesson they are replacing,” said Campbell. “Wired will be delivered through gaming websites, so it needs to be at least as fun as other video games that people play. We are not gamifying education; we are edu-fying, and perhaps even edifying, a game.”

In many areas of physics, people already have an intuitive understanding of how things behave before they learn about them more formally. For instance, people have been throwing balls around since they were toddlers so when they learn about projectiles and Newton’s laws of motion they have an intuition to guide them in how to apply the equations.

Since electricity is invisible and isn’t something we encourage kids to play with, this intuition isn’t there in the same way. Students can learn the mathematics, but may not have the intuition to know how to apply it. “Students are often told that electricity behaves like water flowing through pipes – which gets you some of the way there, but actually, people don’t really understand how water behaves either,” said Campbell. “How many people can tell you why the shower changes temperature when you flush the toilet?”

According to Campbell, Wired bridges this gap, giving players an intuitive understanding of how electricity behaves and gets players solving problems that are not usually encountered until A-level physics.

The project was supported by The Underwood Trust.

The game is currently available on Mac and Windows.

An installable version can be downloaded at:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/885470/Wired/

A browser version of the game can be played at:
https://wiredthegame.com/

A new video game, designed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, gives teenagers an understanding of electricity by solving a series of puzzles in a bid to encourage more of them to study engineering at university. 

A video game is an ideal way to teach students about electricity as it allows players to visualise the underlying concepts and the relationships between them.
Diarmid Campbell
Screenshot from Wired

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Cambridge receives £10 million in funding for new AI supercomputer

By sc604 from News feed generator. Published on Apr 27, 2018.

The new AI supercomputer is a £10 million partnership between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University. Capable of solving the largest scientific and industrial challenges at very high speeds, the supercomputer is supported by Cambridge’s Research Computing Service. The aim is to help companies to create real business value from advanced computing infrastructures.

The supercomputer is part of the UK government’s AI Sector Deal, which involves more than 50 leading technology companies and organisations. The deal is worth almost £1 billion, including almost £300 million of private sector investment into AI.

“AI research requires supercomputing capacity capable of processing huge amounts of data at very high speeds,” said Dr Paul Calleja, Director of the University’s Research Computing Service. “Cambridge’s supercomputer provides researchers with the fast and affordable supercomputing power they need for AI work.”

In addition to computing power, Calleja and his team will provide training, guidance and support Cambridge researchers, and the wider UK IA industry, to make the most of their data.

“AI projects involving Cambridge researchers are already underway,” said Calleja. “In the life sciences we are working on medical imaging analysis and genomics, and in astronomy, AI is being used as part of the Square Kilometre Array project and research to map exoplanets.”

Cambridge is home to the largest technology cluster in Europe. Over the past decade, start-ups based on AI and machine learning, in Cambridge and elsewhere, have seen explosive growth.

“The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better,” said Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock. “Artificial Intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. We have a great track record and are home to some of the world’s biggest names in AI like Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do. By boosting AI skills and data-driven technologies we will make sure that we continue to build a Britain that is shaping the future.”

Building on the commitment made in the government’s modern Industrial Strategy and its AI Grand Challenge, the AI Sector Deal marks the first phase of a major innovation-focused investment drive in AI which aims to help the UK seize the £232 billion opportunity AI offers the UK economy by 2030 (10% of GDP).

The deal will help establish the UK as a research hotspot, with measures to ensure the innovators and tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow are based in the UK, with investment in the high-level post-graduate skills needed to capitalise on technology’s huge potential.

It includes money for training for 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025 and a commitment to develop a prestigious global Turing Fellowship programme to attract and retain the best research talent in AI to the UK.

“Artificial intelligence provides limitless opportunities to develop new, efficient and accessible products and services which transform the way we live and work,” said Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark. “Today’s new deal with industry will ensure we have the right investment, infrastructure and highly-skilled workforce to establish the UK as a driving force in the development and commercial use of artificial intelligence technologies.”

The UK’s fastest academic supercomputer, based at the University of Cambridge, will be made available to artificial intelligence (AI) technology companies from across the UK, in support of the government’s industrial strategy. 

Cambridge’s supercomputer provides researchers with the fast and affordable supercomputing power they need for AI work.
Paul Calleja
Mix 2 colours

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Centre for the Future of Intelligence joins international coalition for safe and beneficial AI

By sjr81 from News feed generator. Published on May 16, 2017.

The Partnership is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to collaboration and open dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of AI. Its founding members included Amazon, Apple, Google/DeepMind, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft.

CFI’s Executive Director, Dr Stephen Cave, said: “With AI advancing rapidly, we need a broad coalition to manage its impact for the good of all. The Partnership on AI is a much-needed and timely development, bringing together the leading companies driving the technology, and an increasingly wide range of other groups, including non-profit and academic institutions, such as our Centre based at the University of Cambridge.”

As well as CFI, twenty other organisations have joined The Partnership on AI, including UNICEF and Sony.

The Partnership’s goals are to study and formulate best practices on the development, testing, and fielding of AI technologies, advancing the public’s understanding of AI, to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society and identify and foster aspirational efforts in AI for socially beneficial purposes.

The Partnership on AI was actively designed to bring together a diverse range of voices from for-profit and non-profit, all of whom share the belief in the tenets, and are committed to collaboration and open dialogue on the many opportunities and rising challenges around AI.

Added Cave: “At CFI, we strongly share the Partnership’s mission to ensure that AI develops in a way that is safe, responsible and fair. We are therefore delighted to be joining the Partnership on AI, alongside other organisations including UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and our partners in Oxford, the Future of Humanity Institute.

“We hope that being a member will provide us with new allies and opportunities in what is likely to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and hope to be able to contribute the insight and analysis of our highly interdisciplinary team.”

CFI is a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, Imperial College London and the University of California at Berkeley and is funded by an unprecedented £10 million grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

Its mission is to create the interdisciplinary community that will be needed to make the AI revolution go as well as possible for humanity. At the Centre’s launch in Cambridge last October, Professor Stephen Hawking said: “The rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which. The research done by this centre will be crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species.”

You can find out more about CFI at www.lcfi.ac.uk and @LeverhulmeCFI. You can find out more about the Partnership on AI at: www.partnershiponai.org/the-latest/ and @PartnershipAI

The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), a Cambridge-based research Centre exploring the nature and impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is joining the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society (Partnership on AI), it was announced this evening.

With AI advancing rapidly, we need a broad coalition to manage its impact for the good of all.
Stephen Cave

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Most complete Bronze Age wheel to date found at Must Farm near Peterborough

By amb206 from News feed generator. Published on Feb 19, 2016.

Archaeologists working at Must Farm, a Bronze Age site near Peterborough, have uncovered a 3,000-year-old wheel, the first and largest complete example ever to be discovered in Britain.  

The find, which will broaden our understanding of Late Bronze Age life, is the latest from a settlement described as Peterborough’s Pompeii. The large wooden round houses, built on stilts, plunged into a river after a dramatic fire 3,000 years ago.

Thought to date from 1100-800 BC, the ancient wooden wheel is one metre in diameter and has been so well preserved by the silt that it still contains its hub. An incomplete Bronze Age wheel was found nearby at Flag Fen in the 1990s but the Must Farm find is unprecedented in terms of size and completeness.

The discovery poses challenges to what is known about the Late Bronze Age in terms of the technology available 3,000 years ago.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain. The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago.”

The find is the latest in a series of discoveries at the Must Farm site which is providing an extraordinary insight into domestic life 3,000 years ago.  Excavation has already revealed circular wooden houses believed to be the best–preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain.

The large wheel was unearthed just a few metres away from the biggest round house on the site. Other exciting finds include a wooden platter, small wooden box and rare small bowls and jars with food remains inside, as well as exceptional textiles and Bronze Age tools. After a catastrophic fire, the houses collapsed into a slow-moving and silty river, which preserved their contents in amazing detail.

David Gibson, Archaeological Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, said: “The discovery of the wheel demonstrates that the inhabitants of this watery landscape had links to the dry land beyond the river.”

The Must Farm site is located at a quarry run by Forterra. Brian Chapman, Head of Land and Mineral Resources, said: “This is an incredible project which we are delighted to be part of. We understand that the discovery of the wheel is of national importance. We are committed to helping uncover the remaining secrets of this unique site at Must Farm and look forward to working with our partners over the coming months.”

Kasia Gdaniec, Senior Archaeologist for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Among the wealth of other fabulous artefacts and the new structural remains of round houses built over this river channel, this site continues to amaze and astonish us with its insight into prehistoric life, the latest being the discovery of this wooden wheel.  Believed to be the most complete example yet found from this period, this wheel poses a challenge to our understanding of both Late Bronze Age technological skill and, together with the eight boats recovered from the same river in 2011, transportation.”

Historic England (formerly known as English Heritage) and building products supplier Forterra are funding a major £1.1 million project to excavate 1,100 square metres of the Must Farm quarry site in Cambridgeshire. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge is over half way through the excavation which is taking place because of concerns about the location and future preservation of the site.

The remains cannot be preserved indefinitely in situ and need to be recorded and analysed so that the unique site of Must Farm can expand our knowledge of the Bronze Age.  

Once the excavation is finished, the team will take the finds for further analysis and conservation. Eventually, the objects will be displayed at Peterborough Museum, Flag Fen and at other local venues. The end of the four-year project will see a major publication about Must Farm and an online resource detailing the finds.

The oldest Bronze Age wheel in Britain is the Flag Fen wheel which dates to c1300 BC but is incomplete and is smaller at 0.8m in diameter. Part of a Late Bronze Age wooden wheel is also known from Lingwood Fen near Cottenham in Cambridgeshire. In Europe, the earliest wheels date to at least 2,500 BC, in the Copper Age.

The Must Farm site is close to modern-day Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, and sits astride a prehistoric watercourse inside the Flag Fen basin. The site has produced large quantities of Bronze Age metalwork, including a rapier and sword in 1969, and more recently the discovery of eight well-preserved log boats in 2011.

These finds place Must Farm alongside similar European Prehistoric Wetland sites: the ancient loch-side dwellings known as crannogs in Scotland and Ireland; stilt houses, also known as pile dwellings, around the Alpine Lakes; and the terps of Friesland, man-made hill dwellings in the Netherlands.

Adapted from a press release by Historic England.

Inset images: Excavation of Bronze Age Wheel at Must Farm one metre in diameter, with hub clearly visible (Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit, photo by Dave Webb).

The largest and best-preserved Bronze Age wheel in Britain has been uncovered at Must Farm, a site described as Peterborough’s Pompeii. The wheel will extend our understanding of early technologies and transport systems.

The discovery of the wheel demonstrates that the inhabitants of this watery landscapes had links to the dry land beyond the river.
David Gibson
Excavation of Bronze Age Wheel at Must Farm one metre in diameter, with hub clearly visible.

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Designing our Tomorrow: Resources to inspire the next generation of engineers

By sjr90 from News feed generator. Published on May 08, 2014.

Designing our Tomorrow (DOT) is a joint project of the Department of Engineering and the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge.

Working in partnership with leading engineering companies and local schools, DOT has developed a distinctive teaching approach and a unique set of resources, ‘DOT in a Box’, for teachers to use in Key Stage 3 Design and Technology classes.

The three boxes being launched today are: Inclusive Design, Sensor Circuits and Picture Holders.

Each box includes a complete set of teaching resources, which would normally cover 12 D & T lessons.

“Inclusive Design” sets the challenge of designing more inclusive cutlery. The BOX includes a set of gloves and glasses that mimic the effects of human aging - the gloves restrict dexterity in a similar way to arthritis; while the glasses mimic the way vision declines from the age of 47. 

Immersion in these and other creative/analytical tools contained in the BOX become the starting point to authentic engineering design challenges.

To help ensure that the case studies and challenges are authentic, leading engineering companies helped to develop the teaching resources:

  • Cambridge Design Partnership contributed real-world industry case studies to inspire the students, including the design of Dulux PaintPod, a self-cleaning powered painter; and the Waterpebble, a small device with complex electronics to measure water usage in the shower. “We enjoyed the opportunity to demonstrate how interesting product development and engineering work can be, and share this in the classroom,” a spokesman said.
  • Heba Bevan, PhD Researcher in Low-power Wireless Sensor Networks at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, said: “Engaging with students in a creative and relevant way at the age of 13 and 14 is critically important to develop analytical skills and a lifelong love of problem solving. These workshops create a different atmosphere for learning, encouraging teamwork, innovation, and thinking about problems in a multi-dimensional way rather than in a linear input-output manner. I believe that widespread implementation of DOT will lead to an significant increase in the number of students that pursue careers in science and engineering.”

BT, Marshalls and Chesapeake also supported the development of DOT in a Box.

The project has been piloted in a range of schools, including a number from Cambridgeshire to make sure that the resources work for teachers and pupils.

The most recent pilot was funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering through its Ingenious grant scheme.

Ian Hosking, Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Design Centre, said: "Everything is designed. It is how we shape the world around us. Designing Our Tomorrow is about equipping students to design their futures and in particular address the global challenges of population ageing and environmental sustainability."

Bill Nichol, Lecturer in Design Education at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, said “Although 71% of 13 and 14 year olds interviewed for the project said that engineering was ‘cool’, less than half felt challenged by their lessons and only 38% said they were considering a career in design and technology.

“By developing and delivering inspirational resources for teaching Design & Technology at Secondary level, DOT hopes that all Key Stage 3 students will enjoy challenging lessons and be inspired to consider design as a real and rewarding career path.”

New resources designed to inspire the next generation of engineers by bringing authentic engineering challenges into the classroom have been launched today by the University of Cambridge.

These workshops create a different atmosphere for learning, encouraging teamwork, innovation, and thinking about problems in a multi-dimensional way.
Heba Bevan, PhD Researcher in Low-power Wireless Sensor Networks, University of Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction,

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New Head of School of Technology appointed

By pbh25 from News feed generator. Published on Feb 07, 2014.

Professor Richard Prager

Professor Richard Prager has been appointed Head of Cambridge University School of Technology.


The focus of his new role will be to ensure the school acts as “the glue” between the five departments it represents and the central university.


Professor Prager spent six years as Deputy Head (Teaching) at the Department of Engineering, stepping down in 2012 to undertake a sabbatical year.


During that year he worked on and helped launch a website – http://i-want-to-study-engineering.org - designed to help school-leavers compete for engineering places at top universities, including Cambridge.
Professor Prager said: “The strengths of the School of Technology are its relevance, breadth, diversity and agility.


“We cover almost everything that is important in terms of the practical future of the world.


“The school represents an amazingly adaptable group of academics who like challenges which are important to society. These include broad issues like sustainability, energy, future cities, entrepreneurship, risk and resilience plus underlying technical topics such as big data, bio-sensors, graphene, deployable structures, natural language processing, micro-mechanics and jet engine design. 


“My vision for the school is that it should help the departments to develop and deliver strategic plans that are consistent with the goals of the university and help the central services to support the exciting work going on in the departments.”


Alongside his administrative role Professor Prager, a fellow of Queens’ College, also continues his work in medical ultrasound technology.

Professor Richard Prager has been appointed Head of Cambridge University School of Technology.

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Cambridge in Davos

By jfp40 from News feed generator. Published on Jan 20, 2014.

Professor Lord Martin Rees (Institute of Astronomy), Professor Julian Dowdeswell (Scott Polar Research Institute) and Professor Jon Hutton (UNEP-WCMC and Hughes Hall) will deliver an IdeasLab presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 24 January. Together, they will explore the technological and policy innovations that will help us adapt to a climate-changed world. 

IdeasLabs are quick-fire visual presentations followed by workgroup discussion, and have proved a successful format for engaging various communities in academic thinking.

As a collaborator in research at Imperial College London, Professor Barbara Sahakian of the Cambridge Department of Psychiatry will also give a presentation, on cognitive stimulation and the ethical implications of drugs to enhance brain function.

The World Economic Forum is an independent international organisation engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas; this year’s theme is The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.

The Forum will provide an opportunity for the Cambridge researchers to engage with decision-makers in business, NGOs and in public policy, and to highlight new ideas from Cambridge in responding to global challenges. Apart from the Annual Meeting, several Cambridge academics contribute to the World Economic Forum year-round, as members of Global Agenda Councils.

The Vice-Chancellor said “Cambridge academics are working in partnership with many organisations to help global society address some of the thorniest questions. I look forward to a productive engagement with Annual Meeting participants from every sector.”

http://www.cam.ac.uk/ideas-insight-and-innovation

A delegation of Cambridge academics, led by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, is attending the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week.

Cambridge academics are working in partnership with many organisations to help global society address some of the thorniest questions.
Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz

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Salters' prize for Clementine Chambon

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Dec 16, 2013.

Clementine Chambon awarded one of this year's Graduate prizes from The Salters' Institute of Industrial Chemistry.

Protein released from cells triggers chain reactions that could cause Alzheimer’s disease

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Dec 05, 2013.

Study in The Journal Of Biological Chemistry

Bingham Fluid Medal for Ian Wilson

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Nov 28, 2013.

Awarded at Viscoplastic Fluids: From Theory to Application conference

Fluidised Particles: 50th anniversary

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Nov 15, 2013.

Fluidised Particles, by John Davidson and David Harrison, first published 1963

Editors' choice paper

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Nov 13, 2013.

Hardness and density distributions of pharmaceutical tablets measured by terahertz pulsed imaging

Awards in Leadership and Management

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Nov 05, 2013.

Roz Williams and Jon Cowper

Photo competition 2013

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Oct 29, 2013.

Enter your photo now

Fellowship for Jethro Akroyd

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Oct 24, 2013.

Fellow of Churchill College

New academic year

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Oct 20, 2013.

Welcome to all

BBSRC 4-year PhD Programme in Biosciences

From Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Published on Oct 11, 2013.

Applications are now invited

Remote takeover: How RealVNC conquered the world

By tdk25 from News feed generator. Published on Jul 30, 2013.

The idea was simple, but it promised to revolutionise the telecommunications industry forever. Instead of just calling people on your mobile phone, the device would also become a miniature, wireless computer. Using an innovative touchscreen design, users would be able to buy and download programs via an online store. The “broadband phone”, as researchers speculatively dubbed it, would put the power of a PC into the owner’s pocket, enabling them to take photos, make films, play games, listen to music, and surf the web.

This, though, was 1999 - and the place was not an Apple research lab, but Cambridge, UK. “We knew that the phones of the future would need to do a lot more than just make calls,” Andy Harter, responsible for the broadband phone project, remembers. “Around 2000, we demonstrated it at the famous Sun Valley summer camp for industry moguls. The room was packed with technology luminaries and CEOs. I’m pretty certain that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were there.”

Seven or eight years before Apple unveiled the iPhone, not everyone really got the point of this idea. Mobile companies, not to mention their customers, simply weren’t ready for the type of phone that was being proposed. Expense was a problem, wireless broadband was not commonplace, and there were some technical obstacles to resolve. “There is a saying in the investment community that being too early is a good as being wrong,” Harter says. “but the concepts we mapped out have undoubtedly lived on.”

Plans for the broadband phone were reluctantly shelved, but the technology that Harter had hoped might enable users to access programs through their mobile was already starting to flourish. In fact, the phone was just one of a wide range of possible uses that were being mooted around that time for his Virtual Network Computing (VNC) system.

It would be churlish, to say the least, were Harter or anyone else at RealVNC - the company which he co-founded in 2002 to exploit the technology, and of which he is CEO - to look back on such abortive opportunities with regret. The broadband phone might have been ahead of its time, but demand for VNC has been rising since day one. The software essentially allows a computer screen to be accessed remotely and controlled from another device. Invented for a purpose far more specific than the array of functions it now fulfils (“let your desktop follow you around” was an early proto-slogan), VNC is now so ubiquitous that it is an official part of the Internet, alongside web and email protocols. “At our best guess, it is being used in more than a billion devices.” Harter says.

Earlier this year, RealVNC won its third Queen’s Award for Enterprise in as many years. These awards are the most prestigious accolades for business in the UK. To win three is unusual - but holding three at once (each expires after five years) is rare indeed. This month, the company was also honoured with the MacRobert Award – the UK’s premier award for innovation in engineering.

This makes RealVNC one of the most successful companies in Cambridge’s technology cluster (the so-called “Silicon Fen”), and one of the biggest success stories among tech spin-outs with origins at the University. Today, RealVNC still has many informal links with the University of Cambridge, and it is clear that without it - and in particular without its Computer Laboratory – the business would never have existed.

Harter himself went to Cambridge in 1980, and would have been an organ scholar, only back then Colleges required organists to take music as a degree. “It was one of those crossroads in life, music or maths,” he reflects. “It took me about two seconds to choose maths.” A self-confessed computing nut who had taught himself how to build and program computers while still at school, he had his sights firmly set on further study in that field. “I wanted to come to Cambridge, because, even though it was the early days of Silicon Fen, I knew that there was an industry based around the Computer Laboratory. That was where I wanted to end up working.” In his first summer, he got a job at Acorn under the stewardship of Hermann Hauser and Andy Hopper, both pioneering figures in the cluster’s history. Hopper, who is now Director of the Computer Lab, would later become his PhD supervisor and a co-founder of RealVNC.

In 1986, the enterprise culture that Harter had perceived in and around the University’s Computer Lab was significantly enriched by the establishment of a Cambridge Research Lab owned by Olivetti. Carrying out projects on behalf of the Italian PC manufacturer, but free to select its own priorities, it was essentially a bridge between academia and industry. Any innovations that might prove worthy of commercial exploitation, particularly those which disrupted established technologies, were given a customised business model to help them to flourish.

In its lifetime, the Olivetti Research Lab (ORL) sponsored dozens of Cambridge computing students, and published more than 100 technical papers in partnership with members of the University. Harter was one of the graduates who helped to establish ORL in the early days, and it was there that he first started to develop VNC. “The Lab was very much on the edge of the University, and really it was a very happy and mutually beneficial collaboration,” he recalls. “The culture was one of building things on a reasonable scale and in a usable way. Our innovations were rooted in solving real problems, or fulfilling an unarticulated need.”

VNC clearly made the grade. By allowing one computer to access the screen of another, it offered the prospect of enabling IT teams in particular to provide users with remote technical support, troubleshooting problems from their own terminal, rather than having to visit the computer with the problem. To this day, helpdesk support remains VNC’s primary function and goes some distance to explaining why it is now so ubiquitous.

In 1998, however, Harter made what seems like a surprising move, releasing VNC as non-commercial, open-source software online. “It was the early days of open-source and search engines were not as omnipresent and omnipotent as they are now,” he says. “We really weren’t sure who would find it or what the effect would be. So it was amazing watching on day one, seeing about 100 people finding it all over the world. By the end of the first week, that had risen to a few thousand. It became viral.”

The numbers never stopped going up. Despite the unconventionality of the approach, starting VNC as an open-source venture successfully created a market for the commercial-grade versions which then followed. By the time RealVNC was founded, in 2002, there were already 100 million people using the product, many of whom were, as a result, interested in the company-wide support Harter’s firm was now offering.

The business model has diversified since, but direct sales remain a major part of it. A typical customer nowadays might be a relatively small IT team of about a dozen people managing a thousand computers on behalf of a firm. At the same time, the software is licensed out to the likes of the semiconductor chip manufacturing giant Intel, who pay royalties to RealVNC in return. And, while technical support remains VNC’s foremost application, its capacity to drive information-sharing between devices has led to uptake in sectors such as education, engineering and design. Even in healthcare, VNC now appears in MRI scanners and X-Ray machines. When they break down, technicians are often able to fix the problem remotely, rather than leaving patients and staff waiting while someone is sent to the hospital.

VNC’s open-source origins clearly help to explain its success. By releasing the software in this way, Harter and his colleagues were able to make millions of people from different walks of life aware of the product, and from that sprang a multitude of uses far beyond the original concept of a portable desktop within a single office. Harter also believes, however, that the global spread of the software was a result of the fact that it is “beguilingly simple - so simple that it’s almost profound.”

VNC works by replicating screens at the level of individual pixels, compressing these, and enabling them to be decoded by a second machine. By making the formula no more complex than that, the company’s product has become universal across a whole range of platforms, including those which did not even exist when it was first released in 1998. It is for this reason, for example, that it was possible to use VNC in a prototype “broadband phone” back at the turn of the 21st century, or in tablet computers once they appeared.

“We’ve always said that we don’t care what kind of computer is at either end, we have to make it work,” Harter adds. “In the end, that made VNC so universally adaptable that it anticipated devices that didn’t exist yet, and ones that are yet to come.” As a result, while RealVNC is in many ways a company exploiting the same product over and over again, opportunities for new applications are constantly appearing on the horizon.

At its Hills Road premises in Cambridge, the company employs about 100 people - an astonishingly small number when one considers the many, many millions now using the technology. A lot of effort is spent testing and checking the software on different platforms, to ensure that by enabling one machine to access another, VNC does not pose a security risk. The vast majority of the company’s work is, however, in research and development, focusing on future applications.

Harter is particularly interested in the prospect of a so-called “Internet Of Things” - the likelihood that, in the future, products and consumer appliances as diverse as washing machines, lighting, electric fans, cars, and television sets will be able to talk to each other in the same way that computers and smartphones can link up now.

This is new and fertile territory for his product. If, for example, you have ever arrived at work only to find yourself worrying about whether you locked the door, or switched on the dishwasher, it might be possible in the future to check and - if necessary - resolve the problem via a VNC-enabled desktop computer, laptop or phone. Similarly, manufacturers may soon be able to check and fix broken household appliances remotely, potentially putting an end to infuriating afternoons, sitting at home, waiting for a technician to arrive at an unspecified time somewhere between the hours of 12 and 6.

Just like the 1999 broadband phone, not all of the prototypes Harter’s staff are currently working on will necessarily see the light of day. What matters to Harter, however, is that the founding principles underpinning the original software have ensured that the company has time to explore such avenues fully. “There is an element of serendipity in what we have achieved, an element of bloody-mindedness, and an element of being just plain right,” he concludes. “If you grow organically, though, as we have, then you can afford to allow yourself a bit of long-termism, and develop a broader agenda. The result is that we are never simply about carrying on with things as they are. We’ve got plans.”

For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk, Tel: 01223 332300, thomas.kirk@admin.cam.ac.uk

First released in 1998, RealVNC’s remote access and control software is today used in more than a billion devices. After winning the UK’s main award for innovation in engineering, CEO and founder Andy Harter explains how it became one of the most successful Cambridge University spin-outs of all time.

In the end, what made VNC so universally adaptable is that it anticipated devices that didn’t exist yet, and ones that are yet to come.
Andy Harter
Spot the difference: In 1999, VNC technology was used to create a prototype “broadband phone” (left). In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone (right).

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