News Article | May 8, 2017
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwired - May 8, 2017) - MPP Global, a high growth technology business that delivers eSuite, an advanced eCommerce digital monetization platform with services that empower the media, video, sport and retail sectors to drive revenue from digital and physical products, has completed a £12m ($15M) Series B financing round from Albion Ventures and Grafton Capital. Based in Warrington, UK, MPP Global counts major global media companies including Sky, News UK, Daily Mail Group, L'Equipe and McClatchy among its clients. MPP Global's platform, eSuite, converts and retains paid users for its clients, and is unique in its integration of identity management, customer relationship management and automated subscription billing. Global digital media revenues totalled $90 billion in 2016 and are forecast to grow 7 percent per year through to 2020 (Statista). Building on recent success, the investment will enable MPP Global to expand into new geographic markets and further evolve its eSuite platform. In preparation for the next phase of development, Keith Wallington, the former COO of Mimecast, has joined the business as Chairman. Paul Johnson, MPP Global's CEO and Co-Founder, said, "We are incredibly excited to be embarking on the next chapter of MPP Global's evolution, embracing new markets and launching a stream of new eSuite features. We welcome Keith to the team as we look forward to raising international awareness of our leading eSuite platform in the United States and Asia Pacific region." Ed Lascelles, Partner, Albion Ventures, said, "This is a compelling opportunity for Albion to invest in a market-leading, high growth and profitable SaaS business run by an entrepreneurial and motivated team. We see the market for paid OTT content growing rapidly over the medium term and MPP Global is well placed to consolidate its position as the category leader." Oliver Thomas, Partner and Co-Founder, Grafton Capital, said, "Paul Johnson, Chris Cheney and their team have already demonstrated success in building a profitable, growing business which consistently outperforms major competitors worldwide. We are excited to be supporting the company as a growing number of media, sports and subscription retail enterprise businesses are choosing MPP Global's integrated capabilities to maximize the lifetime value of their customers." About MPP Global MPP Global is a technology company that delivers eSuite, an advanced monetization platform to enable subscription business models. By providing convenience and discovery to complement existing sales channels, media, sports and retail companies increase revenues and improve customer engagement, both online and instore. Founded in 2000, with offices throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific, MPP Global has an impressive track record of helping companies deliver digital monetisation solutions. Clients include The Times, McClatchy, L'Equipe, Racing Post, Local Media Group, The Irish Times, Daily Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, the New Zealand Herald Sky and EFL. About Albion Ventures The wider Albion group has just under £1 billion funds under investment management or administration and is a long term investor in UK businesses, from start-ups through to FTSE 100. Albion Ventures has over 30 tech investments in its VCT portfolio, where it typically invests £2-5m from post seed through to Series B, and also manages the UCL Technology Fund. About Grafton Founded in 2014, Grafton Capital is a supportive minority partner for category leading, founder-owned, growth companies in three sectors: B2B software, B2B information services, and online marketplaces.
News Article | May 15, 2017
The Campi Flegrei volcano in southern Italy may be closer to an eruption than previously thought, according to new research by UCL and the Vesuvius Observatory in Naples. The volcano has been restless for 67 years, with two-year periods of unrest in the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s causing small, local earthquakes and ground uplift. Similar unrest occurred over 500 years ago, when it took a century to build up to an eruption in 1538. The authors of the study, published today in Nature Communications, used a new model of volcano fracturing developed at UCL to investigate whether Campi Flegrei may again be preparing to erupt. They found that the unrest since the 1950s has had a cumulative effect, causing a build-up of energy in the crust and making the volcano more susceptible to eruption. Previously, it was generally thought that the energy needed to stretch the crust was eventually lost after each period of unrest. "By studying how the ground is cracking and moving at Campi Flegrei, we think it may be approaching a critical stage where further unrest will increase the possibility of an eruption, and it's imperative that the authorities are prepared for this," explained Dr Christopher Kilburn, Director of the UCL Hazard Centre. "We don't know when or if this long-term unrest will lead to an eruption, but Campi Flegrei is following a trend we've seen when testing our model on other volcanoes, including Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, El Hierro in the Canary Islands, and Soufriere Hills on Montserrat in the Caribbean. We are getting closer to forecasting eruptions at volcanoes that have been quiet for generations by using detailed physical models to understand how the preceding unrest develops." Movement of magma three kilometres below the volcano has caused the episodes of unrest. An eruption becomes more likely when the ground has been stretched to its breaking point, because the molten rock can escape to the surface when the ground splits apart. It is difficult to predict when an eruption may occur because, even if the ground breaks, it is possible for the magma to stall before reaching the surface. The unrest has already caused severe social upheaval in Campi Flegrei. The three episodes of uplift have together pushed the port of Pozzuoli, near the centre of unrest, more than three metres out of the sea. "The unrest in 1970 and 1983 caused tens of thousands of people to be evacuated from Pozzuoli itself," said study co-author Dr Stefano Carlino from the Vesuvius Observatory. The whole of Campi Flegrei covers more than 100 square kilometres outside the western suburbs of Naples and is the closest historically-active volcano to London. It is a large caldera, which means it appears as a giant depression in the surface rather than a conical mountain. An eruption today would affect the 360,000 people living across the caldera and Naples' population of nearly one million. "Most damage in previous crises was caused by the seismic shaking of buildings. Our findings show that we must be ready for a greater amount of local seismicity during another uplift and that we must adapt our preparations for another emergency, whether or not it leads to an eruption," explained study co-author Professor Giuseppe De Natale, former Director of the Vesuvius Observatory, which belongs to Italy's National Research Institute (INGV) for the study of earthquakes and volcanoes.
News Article | May 10, 2017
Scientists are closer to understanding the genetic causes of type 2 diabetes by identifying 111 new chromosome locations (‘loci’) on the human genome that indicate susceptibility to the disease, according to a UCL-led study in collaboration with Imperial College London. LONDON, 10-May-2017 — /EuropaWire/ — Type 2 diabetes is the world’s most widespread and devastating metabolic disorder and previously only 76 loci were known and studied. Very few these loci are found in the African American population where the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is almost twice that in the European American population (19% vs. 10%). Of the additional 111 loci identified by the team, 93 (84%) are found in both African American and European populations and only 18 are European-specific. The study, published today in The American Journal of Human Genetics, used a method developed at UCL based on highly informative genetic maps to investigate complex disorders such as type 2 diabetes. European and African American sample populations comprising 5,800 type 2 diabetes case subjects and 9,691 control subjects were analysed, revealing multiple type 2 diabetes loci at regulatory hotspots across the genome. “No disease with a genetic predisposition has been more intensely investigated than type 2 diabetes. We’ve proven the benefits of gene mapping to identify hundreds of locations where causal mutations might be across many populations, including African Americans. This provides a larger number of characterised loci for scientists to study and will allow us to build a more detailed picture of the genetic architecture of type 2 diabetes,” explained lead author, Dr Nikolas Maniatis (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment). “Before we can conduct the functional studies required in order to better understand the molecular basis of this disease, we first need to identify as many plausible candidate loci as possible. Genetic maps are key to this task, by integrating the cross-platform genomic data in a biologically meaningful way,” added co-lead author, Dr Toby Andrew (Imperial College London, Department of Genomics of Common Disease). The team discovered that the additional 111 loci and previously known 76 loci regulate the expression of at least 266 genes that neighbour the identified disease loci. The vast majority of these loci were found outside of gene coding regions but coincided with regulatory ‘hotspots’ that alter the expression of these genes in body fat. They are currently investigating whether these loci alter the expression of the same genes in other tissues such as the pancreas, liver and skeletal muscle that are also relevant to type 2 diabetes. Three loci present in African American and European populations were analysed further using deep sequencing in an independent sample of 94 European patients with type 2 diabetes and 94 control subjects in order to identify genetic mutations that cause the disease. The team found that all three loci overlapped with areas of the chromosome containing multiple regulatory elements and epigenetic markers along with candidate causal mutations for type 2 diabetes that can be further investigated. “Our results mean that we can now target the remaining loci on the genetic maps with deep sequencing to try and find the causal mutations within them. We are also very excited that most of the identified disease loci appear to confer risk of disease in diverse populations such as African Americans, implying our findings are likely to be universally applicable and not just confined to Europeans,” added Dr Winston Lau (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment). “We are now in a strong position to build upon these genomic results, and we can apply the same methods to other complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease,” concluded Dr Maniatis.
News Article | May 12, 2017
A recent conference in Bahrain brought together experts in Islamic archaeology to discuss the lessons of the past and how to safeguard Muslim heritage for future generations. Under the blistering Bahraini sun archaeologist Salman Al Mahari and his team are excavating a section on the western side of the Al-Khamis mosque site. With its twin minarets the mosque used to act as a landmark for ships at sea guiding them to land in the 14th century. But today, excavating the mosque has a far more important function as Islamic archaeology takes on the extremists at their own game. At a recent conference in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, archaeologists working in over 14 Islamic countries around the world participated in a first of its kind conference. Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective brought together some of the most distinguished scholars working in the field of Islamic archaeology to share first hand their recent practical experience in countries torn apart by war, and to investigate the various influences on the science of archaeology. New Zealander, Alan Walmsley, Professor of Islamic Archaeology and Art at the University of Copenhagen says his investigations aim to disseminate a fuller account of social, cultural, and economic developments in Arab and Islamic history. "I interrogate faded and misinformed historical narratives," he explains. He begins by unpicking past Western interest in Bilad Al-Sham, an historic region of the Middle East known as Greater Syria. "Islamic discoveries were incidental to the objective of archaeological interest in Greater Syria," he says."The focus of digs were on the Biblical, Hellenistic and Classical past. These earlier periods took precedence in research." Animosity between Islam and the West compounded the lack of interest in Muslim remains according to Alastair Northedge, professor at the Universites de Paris 1. He spoke in the context of his recent trip to Iraq, about the West's overwhelming concerns with their own past. "There is quite a good example in Iraq," he says. "Babylon seems to belong to the West." Corisande Fenwick, a lecturer in Archaeology of the Mediterranean at University College London (UCL) took time to describe painstaking research into food remains indicating when pork was no longer consumed and so revealing the pace at which Islam was established across the Maghreb region. She attributes the Western assessment of archaeological finds prior to the mid-1950s to a colonial interpretation. "If you go back before independence, archaeology is all driven by colonial scholars," she says. "They were attracted by the exotic nature of their finds. That reinforced the idea that the Islamic world was somehow different and needed to be controlled by colonial powers," she adds. But it is not just a Western agenda that has shaped excavations in the Muslim world. Alastair Northedge also notes that Muslims themselves have not always been concerned with protecting the material heritage of the great spiritual sanctuaries. "It is not just Mecca and Medina, but also Shia shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq" he says. "There seems to be a preference for building something new rather than conserving the old because the emphasis is on the spiritual nature of these places not their materiality." But a wider vision is coming and the rise in the number of excavations throughout the Gulf area attests to a burgeoning interest in the material past. St John Simpson, archaeologist and senior curator at the British Museum, says that a revival of interest in Islamic archaeology is long overdue. "It's part and parcel of a search for Muslim cultural identity," he explains. It is also an opportunity to redress earlier misconceptions. "Since the 19th century and continuing though much of the 20th century commercial excavations led by dealers have in parts of the world flooded the market with objects which were traditionally celebrated by art historians," Dr Simpson says. "They celebrated the beauty of those pieces and therefore reconstructed material cultures on the basis of those objects." This world of appreciation driven by beauty is the natural perspective of art historians who rate aesthetics over function. "So metal ware, certain types of glass and glazed ceramics are elevated slightly disproportionately to their real functional value in the past. "Metal ware, glass and glazed ceramics are more highly rated than pottery, brass or plain glass and unfortunately that gives a rather skewed impression," he says. This new phase is also putting the spotlight on less well known aspects of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabian archaeologist Saad bin Abdulaziz Al Rashid says the Saudi Authority for Tourism and Heritage is in the process of broadening its scope beyond the Holy Places. "Dams, wells, springs, fortresses along pilgrim tourist routes are all key to the understanding of the spread of Islam," he says. "We are maintaining the Islamic cultural identity while ensuring their future sustainability," he asserts. "These sites are significant not only to Muslims at large, but also to non-Muslim scholars and as part of the archaeological work we are supporting the transference and dissemination of the facts surrounding Islamic history." Saad in Abdulaziz Al Rashid goes on to cite the rich remains of the Nabataean cities of Al Ula and Mada'n Saleh, the furthest western outpost of the civilisation centred at Petra in Jordan. "These first century tombs are now a tourist attraction." he states. Meanwhile Alastair Northedge notes that the contemporary, more comprehensive vision of Islam counterbalances the extremist fixation with the time of the Prophet. "All that millennium and a half of great Islamic civilisation, the golden age, has tended to disappear," he comments. "That means forgetting discoveries in philosophy, science that can tell us so much." Now educated mainstream Muslims are seeking an intelligent tolerant Islam they can relate to and which is absent from Islamic State (IS) discourse. Today's archaeologist may cross modern political frontiers shattering paradigms created within borders. A globalised archaeology sees expert working collaboratively in diverse countries across the Muslim world. St John Simpson says that the British Museum is already working with Iraqi archaeologists to build capacity for a whole new generation. "For a post-Daesh world where we can dig across Iraq safely, training schemes in southern and northern Iraq are helping prepare archaeologists." Some Iraqi trainees are currently working in Mosul at a time of conflict making assessments of the archaeology and the damage to cultural property with a view that when peace is restored there can be reconstruction. Nor far away from the conference taking place in Bahrain's National Theatre, Salman al-Mahari is looking at some newly unearthed tombstones. "These are the same type of stones found in Shiraz, in south-central, Iran," he confirms. "They reflect the cultural and economic exchange between these two places dating from the 11th centuries and perhaps even earlier." As well as introducing the notion of globalism to modern Islamic archaeology, the conference holds out the prospect of an objective assessment of current and previous findings that will offer a more balanced and revisionist account of the social history of Islam.
News Article | May 1, 2017
The brain responds less to money gained from immoral actions than money earned decently, reveals a new UCL-led study. The research, published in Nature Neuroscience and funded by Wellcome, helps explain why most people are reluctant to seek illicit gains by identifying a neural process that dampens the appeal of profiting at other people's expense. "When we make decisions, a network of brain regions calculates how valuable our options are," explained lead author Dr Molly Crockett of the University of Oxford, who carried out the research while based at the UCL Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging. "Ill-gotten gains evoke weaker responses in this network, which may explain why most people would rather not profit from harming others. Our results suggest the money just isn't as appealing." The research team scanned volunteers' brains as they decided whether to anonymously inflict pain on themselves or strangers in exchange for money. The study builds on previous research by the same team that showed people dislike harming others more than harming themselves. This behaviour was seen again in this study, with most people more willing to harm themselves than others for profit. The study involved 28 pairs of participants who were anonymously paired and randomly assigned to be either the 'decider' or the 'receiver'. Deciders picked between different amounts of money for different numbers of electric shocks. Half the decisions related to shocks for themselves and half to shocks for the receiver, but in all cases the deciders would get the money. The shocks were matched to each recipient's pain threshold to be mildly painful but tolerable. The deciders were in an fMRI brain scanner. As they made their decisions, a brain network including the striatum was activated, as it has been shown in previous studies to be key to value computation. As they decided between more profitable options or those with fewer shocks, this brain network signalled how beneficial each option was. The network responded less to money gained from shocking others, compared with money gained from shocking oneself - but only in those people who behaved morally. Meanwhile, the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC), a brain region involved in making moral judgments, was most active in trials where inflicting pain yielded minimal profit. In a follow-up study, participants made moral judgements about decisions to harm others for profit, and considered those same trials to be the most blameworthy. Taken together, the findings suggest the LPFC was assessing blame. When people refused to profit from harming others, this region was communicating with the striatum, suggesting that neural representations of moral rules might disrupt the value of ill-gotten gains encoded in the striatum. "Our findings suggest the brain internalizes the moral judgments of others, simulating how much others might blame us for potential wrongdoing, even when we know our actions are anonymous," Dr Crockett said. Senior author Professor Ray Dolan (UCL Max Planck Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research) said: "What we have shown here is how values that guide our decisions respond flexibly to moral consequences. An important goal for future research is understanding when and how this circuitry is disturbed in contexts such as antisocial behaviour."
News Article | April 21, 2017
A new Festival to be held in Hay-on-Wye for Book Lovers and Lovers of Art, Music and Ideas looking for the latest information on Love and Relationships is being launched this year and interested parties can now register to attend The Greatest Adventure – Love in the time of Tinder. It’s a new May Day weekend Festival for Hay-on-Wye, scheduled for 29 and 30 April 2017, the first bank-holiday weekend in May in the UK. Hideaways In Hay, based in Hay-on-Wye on the border of England and Wales, whose two holiday cottages have been voted consistently the Nº 1 Romantic Self-catering Cottages in Wales on Trip Advisor is supporting this year’s event, which will cover key issues such as: Debate: Love Story – Discover the science of attraction, its impact on the brain, and why love fades or lasts. CEO of Relate Chris Sherwood, BAFTA nominated director Martha Fiennes, and Romanticism expert Shahidha Bari rethink romance. Talk: Why Are Humans Monogamous? – Only 3 percent of mammals are monogamous. The faithful few include beavers, wolves, bats, and, of course, humans. Why is monogamy so rare? And how did this come to pass? UCL anthropologist Kit Opie takes a journey back to the beginning of human relationships. Workshop: How to Find Love Online – One in three couples now find love on the internet. Learn how to do it successfully. Creating a profile can seem daunting at the best of times. What’s the best way to be presented online? Dating expert and School of Life coach Susan Quilliam reveals the top tips for making the most of an online profile. Full details of the event program can be found on the website of the Institute of Art & Ideas at https://iai.tv. And Hay-on-Wye Accommodation information can be found on the Hideaways In Hay website at http://hideawaysinhay.co.uk. When asked about the reasons behind creating this event, the hosts of the event, Robert Rowland Smith and Shahidha Bari said: “Creating a truly unique offering in a beautiful setting where attendees can make meaningful change in their life, love and relationships was the objective. This is an empowering weekend of debates, lectures and workshops in Hay-on-Wye designed to map what is for all humanity: The Greatest Adventure.” The Institute of Art & Ideas, based in London in the UK, and the people behind the “How the Light Gets In” Philosophy & Music Festivals are launching this new Festival for Hay-on-Wye over the May Day Holiday Weekend, the first weekend in May. With the upcoming Hay Literary Festival taking place at the end of May annually (the second bank-holiday weekend in May), and attracting over 250,000 visitors and most of the world’s literary press and famous names from President Bill Clinton, Noam Chomsky, and J.K. Rowling to Margaret Atwood, Steven King, and this year, even Bernie Saunders, visiting this new May Day weekend festival earlier in the month, will be just as much fun, draw less on the pocket and have more luxury accommodation available at reasonable prices. This year’s Festival is jointly hosted by Robert Rowland Smith and Shadidha Bari: Robert Rowland Smith began his career as a Prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Now a philosopher and psychoanalyst, Robert is the author of best-selling Breakfast with Socrates: The Philosophy of Everyday Life and Driving with Plato: The Meaning of Life’s Milestones. Shadidha Bari is Former BBC New Generation Thinker and Senior Lecturer in Romanticism at Queen Mary University London. The weekend is packed with lectures from world-leading neuroscientists, philosophers and psychologists and with live music from emerging artists. Full details on the sessions at this year’s The Greatest Adventure event can be found at https://iai.tv. The Hideaways In Hay website has Hay-on-Wye accommodation availability details at http://hideawaysinhay.co.uk. For more information, please visit http://hideawaysinhay.co.uk
News Article | April 25, 2017
How lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries behave under short-circuit conditions can now be examined using a new approach developed by a UCL-led team to help improve reliability and safety. The use of high energy density Li-ion batteries is ubiquitous -- from powering portable electronics to providing grid-scale storage -- but defects can lead to overheating and explosions. Although catastrophic failure is extremely rare, recent high-profile cases including the recall of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 smartphone line and the grounding of an aircraft fleet highlight why it's important to understand battery failure. "In previous work, we've tracked Li-ion battery failure caused by extreme heat in 3D and real-time, but this is the first time we've tracked what happens to the temperature and structure of cells when we short circuit the battery in a controlled way at an internal location of our choosing, initiating a series of potentially dangerous events," explained first author, Dr Donal Finegan (UCL, NASA and NREL). "This is of particular interest, as short-circuiting is thought to be responsible for a number of high-profile, real world failures. Knowing when and where the cell will fail has allowed us to characterise what happens during catastrophic failure in-depth using high-speed X-ray imaging. This provides us with new insights to help guide the design and development of safer and more reliable Li-ion batteries." The study published today in Energy and Environmental Science involved researchers from UCL, NASA-Johnson Space Center (USA), the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, USA), WMG University of Warwick, Diamond Light Source (UK), The European Synchrotron (ESRF, France) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL, UK). To induce failure, the team inserted a device capable of generating an internal short circuit on-demand and at a pre-determined location into commercially available Li-ion batteries, which are commonly used to power portable electronics and electric vehicles. Designed and patented by U.S. researchers Dr Eric Darcy (NASA) and Matthew Keyser (NREL), the temperature-activated device allows researchers to mimic hidden defects that can occur during the battery manufacturing processes, leading to a dangerous chain reaction of heat generation and battery failure. The team used the device to gain insight into cell design vulnerabilities by causing cell walls to rupture or cells to burst open. Using high-speed X-ray imaging, researchers monitored what happened to the structure of the cells in real-time, as the short circuit drove the catastrophic failure process which propagated through cells and modules. Individual cells, as well as small cell modules, were tested under conditions that represented a worst-case battery failure scenario. Short circuits were initiated inside the batteries at ~60 degrees C. During the failure process, cell temperatures reached in excess of 1085 degrees C. From analysing the high-speed imaging frame by frame, the team looked at the effects of gas pockets forming, venting and increasing temperatures on the layers inside two distinct commercial Li-ion batteries and identified consistent failure mechanisms. Corresponding author, Dr Paul Shearing (UCL) explained: "It is fascinating to see how quickly the process of thermal runaway can spread throughout these cells, which went from being completely intact to being completely destroyed within around one second. "This investigation provides the first description of how short-circuit failure propagates inside a cell in real time, this was only possible by combining the novel short-circuiting devices developed by NASA and NREL with ultra high-speed X-ray imaging. We were surprised to learn how susceptible neighbouring cells are to propagation of thermal runaway. This demonstrates the importance of isolating failing cells within larger battery packs and modules, which may be found in a range of applications from space suits to electric vehicles." The team now plans to examine how these new insights can be used to improve the safety of commercial battery and module designs. For example, researchers will study how the rupture of the highest energy density commercial cells can be prevented and how to reduce the risk of cell-to-cell propagation.
News Article | April 17, 2017
After two decades of development and "heartbreak", scientists are on the verge of sending missions to explore the ocean world of Europa. Could this be our best shot at finding life elsewhere in the Solar System? Orbiting the giant planet Jupiter is an icy world, just a little smaller than Earth's moon. From a distance, Europa appears to be etched with a nexus of dark streaks, like the product of a toddler's chaotic scribbling. Close up, these are revealed to be long linear cracks in the ice, many of which are filled with an unknown contaminant that scientists have dubbed the "brown gunk". Elsewhere, the surface is tortured and irregular, as if massive slabs of ice have drifted, spun and flipped over in slush. Jupiter's immense gravity helps generate tidal forces that repeatedly stretch and relax the moon. But the stresses that created Europa's smashed up terrain are best explained by the ice shell floating on an ocean of liquid water. "The fact that there's liquid water underneath the surface which we know from previous missions, in particular from the magnetometer observations made by the Galileo spacecraft as it flew past [in the 1990s], makes it one of the most exciting potential targets to look for life," says Prof Andrew Coates of UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, UK. Europa's dark, briny deep might extend 80-170km into the moon's interior, meaning it could be holding twice as much liquid water as there is in all of Earth's oceans. And while water is one vital prerequisite for life, Europa's ocean might have others - such as a source of chemical energy for microbes. What's more, the ocean may communicate with the surface through a number of means, including warm blobs of ice from below rising up through the ice shell - which could be tens of kilometres thick. So studying the surface could provide clues to what's going on deep below. Now, Nasa is priming two missions to explore this intriguing world. Both have been discussed here at the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Houston. The first is a flyby mission called Europa Clipper that would likely launch in 2022. The second is a lander mission that would follow a few years later. "We're really trying to get at Europa's potential habitability, the ingredients for life: water, and whether there's chemical energy for life," he tells me. "We do that by trying to understand the ocean and the ice shell, the composition and the geology. And mixed into those is the level of current activity at Europa." Clipper carries a payload of nine instruments, including a camera that will image most of the surface; spectrometers to understand its composition; ice-penetrating radar to map the ice shell in three dimensions and find water beneath the ice shell; and a magnetometer to characterise the ocean. However, since the Galileo spacecraft provided evidence for an ocean in the 1990s, we've learned that Europa isn't one of a kind. "One of the most amazing and significant discoveries of the past decade or so in planetary exploration is that you can't swing a dead cat in the outer Solar System without hitting an ocean world," says Clipper's programme scientist Curt Niebur, from Nasa headquarters in Washington DC. At Saturn's moon Enceladus, for example, ice from a subsurface ocean gushes into space through fissures at the south pole. The saturnian satellite could also get a dedicated mission in the 2020s, but Dr Niebur believes Europa stands out: "Europa is much larger than Enceladus and has more of everything: more geological activity, more water, more space for that water, more heat, more raw ingredients and more stability in its environment." But there's something else that marks the moon out: its neighbourhood. Europa's orbital path takes it deep into Jupiter's powerful magnetic field, which traps and speeds up particles. The resulting belts of intense radiation fry spacecraft electronics, limiting the durations of missions to months or even weeks. That said, this radiation also drives reactions on Europa's surface, yielding chemicals called oxidants. On Earth, biology exploits the chemical reactions between oxidants and compounds known as reductants to supply the energy needed for life. However, the oxidants made on the surface are only useful to Europan microbes if they can get down into the ocean. Fortunately, the process of convection that pushes warm blobs of ice upwards might also drive surface material down. Once in the ocean, oxidants could react with reductants made by seawater interacting with the rocky ocean floor. "You need both poles of the battery," explains Robert Pappalardo. For scientists like Bob Pappalardo and Curt Niebur, the impending missions are the realisation of a two-decades-long dream. Since the first Europa mission concepts were drawn up in the late 1990s, one promising proposal after another has been thwarted. During the noughties, the US and Europe even pooled resources on a mission that would have sent separate spacecraft to Europa and Jupiter's larger ice moon Ganymede. But the plan was cancelled amid budget cuts, with the European part evolving into the Juice mission. "I don't think there's been a Europa mission over the past 18 years that I have not either had my fingers in or has not passed under my eye," says Curt Niebur. "It's been a long road. The road to launch is always a rocky one, and it's always full of heartbreak. We've experienced that more than most on Europa." Exploring Europa is costly - though no more so than other Nasa "flagship" missions such as Cassini or the Curiosity rover. There are inherent engineering challenges, such as operating within Jupiter's radiation belts. Spacecraft instruments need to be shielded with materials such as titanium metal but, says Dr Pappalardo, "you can only shield them so much because they have to be able to see Europa". So to keep Clipper safe, Nasa is going to stray from the rulebook somewhat. "The assumption always was: Galileo flew past Europa, so the next mission has to be an orbiter. That's just how we do business," says Dr Niebur. But rather than orbit Europa, Clipper will instead reduce its exposure to mission-shortening radiation by orbiting Jupiter, and make at least 45 close flybys of the icy moon over three-and-a-half years. "We realised we could avoid those technical challenges of orbiting Europa, make the mission much more achievable and still get the science we want if we fly past it a lot," says Clipper's programme scientist. The strength of sunlight near Europa is about a 30th of what it is at Earth. But Nasa decided it could power Clipper with solar panels rather than the radioactive generators some other outer planet missions have used. "All those years of study forced us to burn away our pre-conceptions and get us to really focus on reality, not on our wish-list... to focus on the best science," says Curt Niebur. In 2011, a National Research Council report re-stated the importance of exploring the icy moon. Even so, Nasa remained wary because of the cost. But the support on Capitol Hill has been pivotal. A Europa venture has bipartisan backing, and in Republican Congressman John Culberson - the chair of the particular House Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over Nasa's budget - the mission has had a unique champion. The 60-year-old Texan lawmaker has been entranced by Europa ever since observing it through the Celestron 8 telescope he bought himself as a high school graduation present. Over the last four years, the subcommittee he chairs has channelled money to scientists working on Europa, even when the space agency's chief wasn't asking for it. Generous investment means that much more of the technical work has been completed on Clipper than is normal for a mission at its stage (phase B) in the Nasa project cycle. The lander is at an earlier stage of development, called pre-phase A, but a report on the mission's science value was discussed at a workshop here at the LPSC. The lander has received no funding in the President's 2018 budget request for Nasa. But Dr Jim Green, director of planetary science at the agency, tells me: "That mission in particular is tremendously exciting, because it tells us the science we have to do from the surface of a moon that's really hard to get to. "We still have quite the process to go through, do the due diligence, understanding the kind of measurements we need to make. Then we'll work with the administration in the future at the right time to see if, budgetarily, we can move forward with it." Some innovative Europa lander concepts have been proposed over the last two decades, reflecting the scientific bounty to be had by touching down. Dr Geraint Jones of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory has worked on one concept called a penetrator. "They haven't been flown in space before, but it's a really promising technology," he explains. A projectile deployed from a satellite hits the surface "really hard, at about 300m/second, about 700 miles an hour", exposing pristine ice for analysis by onboard instruments, which could be designed to withstand the impact. By contrast, Nasa's forthcoming lander would put down softly with the help of the Sky Crane technology used to drop the Curiosity rover safely on Mars in 2012. During the touchdown, it will use an autonomous landing system to detect and avoid surface hazards in real time. Clipper will provide the reconnaissance for a landing site. "I like to think of it as finding that right oasis, where there might be water close to the surface. Maybe it's warm and maybe it has organic materials," says Bob Pappalardo. The craft would be equipped with a sensitive instrument payload and a counter-rotating saw to help get at fresher samples below the radiation-processed surface ice. "The lander is all about hitting the freshest, most pristine sample possible. One way to do that is to dig deep, another way is going to where there is some kind of eruption on the surface - like a plume - that's dropping very fresh material onto the surface," says Curt Niebur. In recent years, the Hubble telescope has made tentative observations of plumes of water-ice erupting from beneath Europa, much as they do on Enceladus. But there's no point in the lander going to the site of a decades-old eruption, it would need to visit the location of a much more recent plume. So scientists need to understand what's controlling these geysers: for example, Clipper will determine whether the plumes are correlated with any hot spots on the surface. Earth's seas are teeming with life, so it can be hard for us to contemplate the prospect of a sterile, 100km-plus deep ocean on Europa. But the scientific threshold for detecting life is set very high. So will we be able to recognise alien life if it's there? "The goal of the lander mission is not simply to detect life [to our satisfaction], but to convince everyone else that we have done so," Dr Niebur explains. "It does no good for us to invest in this mission if all we create is scientific controversy." Thus, the lander's science definition team came up with two ways to address this. First, any detection of life has to be based on multiple, independent lines of evidence from direct measurements. "There's no silver bullet; you don't do one measurement and say: 'aha, eureka we've found it'. You look at the sum total," says Dr Niebur. Second, the scientists have come up with a framework to interpret those results, some of which might be positive, while others negative: "It creates a decision tree that marches through all the different variables. Following all these different paths, the end result is: yes, we've found life, or no we haven't," he says. At the lander workshop here at the LPSC, Nasa's Kevin Hand described the process as "biosignature bingo". Now, the team will have to see if the scientific community is persuaded. Curt Niebur explains: "I want to have that discussion now, today, years before we launch so that we can all be focused on analysing the data once we land."
News Article | April 26, 2017
When thousands of football fans pour into Cardiff's Principality Stadium on June 3 to watch the final match of the UEFA Champions League, few will be aware that their faces will have already been scanned, processed, and compared to a police database of some 500,000 "persons of interest". Despite significant criticism against the technology from fans, British police will pilot a new facial recognition surveillance system at the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff, Wales this summer. According to a government tender issued by South Wales Police, the system will be deployed during the day of the game in Cardiff's main train station, as well as in and around the Principality Stadium situated in the heart of Cardiff's central retail district. Cameras will potentially be scanning the faces of an estimated 170,000 visitors plus the many more thousands of people in the vicinity of the bustling Saturday evening city center on match day, June 3. Captured images will then be compared in real time to 500,000 custody images stored in the police information and records management system alerting police to any "persons of interest," according to the tender. The security operation will build on previous police use of Automated Facial Recognition, or AFR technology by London's Metropolitan Police during 2016's Notting Hill Carnival. "I have seen the use of AFR increase" In an email interview with the UK Government's surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter, who in March released a national strategy on use of surveillance cameras, Motherboard was told that incidents like the recent attack on the Borussia Dortmund team bus before a Champions League quarter-final match are examples of why law enforcement organisations are looking at AFR. However, he outlined that police must utilise the technology in a measured way that is compliant with the surveillance camera code of practice. "My office has been in touch with South Wales Police to help them ensure that when deploying AFR they are complying with the code [of practice]," he said. "I have seen the use of AFR increase [over] the past few years and a recent report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicated that facial recognition is a difficult challenge. Getting the best, most accurate results for each intended application requires good algorithms, a dedicated design effort, a multidisciplinary team of experts, limited-size image databases, and field tests to properly calibrate and optimize the technology." But questions of effectiveness of AFR, as well as a lack of oversight, still surround the technology. South Wales Police have not responded to multiple requests for comment. Recent findings in NIST's Face In Video Evaluation program report, which the commissioner referred to, details the limitations of AFR in identifying "non-cooperative" subjects—that is, subjects who are not facing the camera or whose faces are obscured. The report finds that accurate facial recognition can only be achieved in controlled environments with high quality cameras, as a subject's face can easily be obscured for any number of reasons. It also outlines that the need for multiple cameras comes with a high computation cost. The accuracy of facial recognition software has also recently been publicly criticised in the US during a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee revealed findings by the Government Accountability Office that algorithms used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation were inaccurate 14 percent of the time and were more likely to misidentify black people. The report was also damming of the FBI's unregulated and disproportionate use of facial recognition tech, which mirrors recent controversy caused by findings of unlawful retention of photos of millions of innocent people by UK police forces. The practical limitations of AFR are corroborated by the follow up statement issued by the Metropolitan Police concerning the Notting Hill Carnival operation. Use of AFR during the security operation led to zero arrests, failing to identify even a single person of interest despite there being a total of 454 arrests made during the course of the carnival. "The lack of legal safeguards for the public is growing wider and more alarming all the time," The limitations in the effectiveness of AFR, as well as confusion around regulations, are worrying to privacy advocates like Rachel Robinson, policy director at human rights and civil liberties campaign organisation Liberty. "The chasm between the increasingly advanced surveillance technology rolled out by police and the lack of legal safeguards for the public is growing wider and more alarming all the time," she told Motherboard via email. Robinson said that there are indeed times when targeted CCTV is necessary and proportionate, but that, "instantaneous facial recognition technology with the potential to identify anyone in a crowd of thousands, alongside ongoing police storage of huge numbers of innocent people's photographs, is a seriously intrusive combination." Despite clear issues and trepidations concerning AFR, appetite for the use of the technology by law enforcement appears to be significant. "I foresee this continuing," said Porter concerning future use of AFR by police. "In terms of additional applications I can see it linking in with other technology such as body worn video, being used along other databases and so on." This statement aligns with information contained within a financial strategy document showing that South Wales Police took a national lead in securing a £2 million grant from the Home Office through the Police Transformation Fund to be allocated to various UK police forces to spend on facial recognition systems. The £177,000 contract notice issued by South Wales Police titled "Automated Facial Recognition Solution" directly related to the UCL final states the duration of the contract to be five years; indicating that the controversial technology is certainly set to see further police deployment in the future. On April 27, South Wales Police responded to Motherboard's requests for comment. Chief Superintendent Jon Edwards, Gold Commander for event, said, "South Wales Police has secured funding from the Home Office to develop automated facial recognition technology for policing. The UEFA Champions League finals in Cardiff give us a unique opportunity to test and prove the concept of this technology in a live operational environment, which will hopefully prove the benefits and the application of such technology across policing." Subscribe to Science Solved It, Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.
News Article | June 26, 2017
The sex of animals frequently has an effect in biomedical research and therefore should be considered in the study of science, report scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium. In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that the differences between male and female mice had an effect that could impact research results in more than half of their studies. The study, published today (26 June) in Nature Communications, quantified the differences between males and females - known as sexual dimorphism. The results have implications for the design of future animal studies which underpin research into treatments for human diseases. Historically, a woman has been thought of as a small man in medicine and biomedical research. Even today, medical practice is less evidence-based for women than for men due to a bias towards the study of males in biomedical research. Sex influences the prevalence, course and severity of the majority of common diseases and disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases and asthma. In spite of this, the usual approach in biomedical research is to ignore sex or to analyse only one sex and assume the results apply to the other sex. In this new study, researchers have quantified the difference between male and female mice, looking across multiple experiments and institutes. In the largest study of its kind, scientists analysed up to 234 physical characteristics of more than 50,000 mice. The team found that in the standard group of mice - the control mice - their sex had an impact on 56.6 per cent of quantitative traits, such as bone mass, and on 9.9 per cent of qualitative traits, including whether the shape of the head was normal or abnormal. In mice that had a gene switched off - the mutant mice - their sex modified the effect of the mutation in 13.3 per cent of qualitative traits and up to 17.7 per cent of quantitative traits. Dr Natasha Karp, lead author who carried out the research at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and now works in the IMED Biotech Unit at AstraZeneca, said: "This was a scientific blindspot that we really thought needed exploration. A person's sex has a significant impact on the course and severity of many common diseases, and the consequential side effects of treatments - which are being missed. Now we have a quantitative handle on how much sexual dimorphism has an impact in biomedical research. In the movement towards precision medicine, we not only have to account for genetic differences between people when we consider disease, but also their sex." In the study, scientists analysed 14,250 control mice and 40,192 mutant mice from 10 centres that are part of the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC). At each institution, scientists studied up to 234 physical characteristics of the mice, including body composition, metabolic profile, blood components, behavioural traits and whole body characterisation - whether the head shape, coat, paws and other areas of their bodies were normal or abnormal. In the first half of the study, scientists studied the differences between the physical traits of control male and female mice to see if their sex had an effect. In the second part of the study, scientists then looked at how the sex of a mouse impacted on the effect of a genetic modification. For example, researchers switched off a gene and assessed whether any differences in the resulting trait depended on the sex of the mice. Professor Judith Mank, an author of the study from University College London, said: "This study illustrates how often sex differences occur in traits that we would otherwise assume to be the same in males and females. More importantly, the fact that a mouse's sex influenced the effects of genetic modification indicates that males and females differ right down to the underlying genetics behind many traits. This means that only studying males paints half the picture." This study presents implications for the design of future animal studies and clinical trials. It has been more than twenty years since it became a requirement that women were included within clinical trials in the US*. Whilst more women are taking part in clinical trials, increasing from 9 per cent in 1970 to 41 per cent 2006**, women are still under-represented. The bias is even stronger in the earlier stages of biomedical research. A review of international animal research between 2011 and 2012 found that 22 per cent of studies did not state the sex of the animals, and of those that did, 80 per cent of studies used solely males and only 3 per cent included both males and females***. Professor Steve Brown, an author of the study who is Director of the MRC Harwell Institute and Chair of the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium Steering Committee, said: "It is likely that important scientific information is missed by not investigating more thoroughly how males and females differ in biomedical research. Rather than extrapolate the results to account for the opposite sex, these results suggest designing experiments to include both sexes in the study of disease. This study is a major step to highlighting the impact of sex differences in research and will help in accounting for those differences in the future of biomedicine." Sex refers to the intrinsic characteristics that distinguish males from females, whereas gender refers to the socially determined behaviour, roles or activities that males and females adopt. Sources for the statistics of the under-representation of females in research Natasha Karp et al. (2017) Prevalence of sexual dimorphism in mammalian phenotypic traits. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS15475 The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC) is a massive international endeavour to address one of the grand challenges for science in the 21st century - to determine the function of all the genes in the human genome. By producing and studying 20,000 mouse mutant lines the IMPC will create a powerful, free to access database of all genes and genetic networks, underpinning fundamental new insights into the genetic basis of disease. Launched in 2011, the consortium consists of over 15 research institutes across four continents with funding provided by the NIH, European national governments and the partner institutions. For more information, please visit http://www. UCL was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 38,000 students from 150 countries and over 12,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion. http://www. | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV The MRC Harwell Institute is at the international forefront of the use of mouse genetics to study the relationship between genes and disease. The models we create and study are used to understand the disease processes that occur when a gene goes wrong. https:/ The European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL, http://www. ) and is located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton near Cambridge (UK). The EBI grew out of EMBL's pioneering work in providing public biological databases to the research community. It hosts some of the world's most important collections of biological data, including DNA sequences (ENA), protein sequences (UniProt), animal genomes (Ensembl), 3D structures (the Protein Databank in Europe), data from gene expression experiments (ArrayExpress), protein-protein interactions (IntAct) and pathway information (Reactome). The EBI hosts several research groups and its scientists continually develop new tools for the biocomputing community. EMBL-EBI is coordinating ELIXIR (http://www. ), a pan-European research infrastructure for biological information. http://www. The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH institute could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at http://commonfund. . About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www. . The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease. http://www. Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We're a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. http://www.