kings100bSynthetic Biology in Cambridge

Research activities and studentship opportunities at the University of Cambridge. There is an index of research groups engaged in Synthetic Biology related work, with funding news and resources for people considering work in Cambridge. See a collection of web sites with extensive local information.

Research news at Cambridge University

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One millionth Raspberry Pi baked in UK

One millionth Raspberry Pi baked in UK

Can we call it a Raspevolution yet? The UK (the Sony-owned Pencoed factory in South Wales, to be precise), has baked its one millionth Raspberry Pi. Announcing the figure in a blog post on its company website, the Raspberry Pi Foundation says that a total of 1.75 million of the diminutive computers have been built to date. Three quarters of a million...

Hits:454 Cambridge news

Top universities in the UK

Top universities in the UK

UK universities scored particularly well for the employability of their graduates Continue reading the main story The UK now boasts six of the world's top 20 universities, according to a new global table. Edinburgh and King's College London have edged into the top 20 of the QS World University rankings. Cambridge, UCL, Imperial and Oxford all made it into the top 10. But John O'Leary...

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OpenLabTools in Cambridge

OpenLabTools in Cambridge

The OpenLabTools Project is a new initiative that will provide a forum and knowledge centre for the development of low cost and open access scientific tools at the University of Cambridge, with an emphasis on undergraduate and graduate teaching and research. The programme starts this year with a number of projects that will be offered to establish the core components...

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Synchronized Pipetting

Synchronized Pipetting

by Mary Abraham and Jochen Rink Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge We investigated the effect of using music to enhance the sub-optimal system of undergraduate laboratory research assistants (Researcheria virginium). Many aspects of the interaction between the undergraduate and the laboratory bench leave much to be desired. We focused on the simplest — yet easily quantifiable — laboratory skill, the...

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Cambridge: the UK’s most successful city

Cambridge: the UK’s most successful city Cambridge has come first in a report comparing cities across the country by Jonny Barlow Wednesday 25th January 2012, 18:21 GMT Cambridge’s economy has ranked first in an annual Cities Outlook report, suggesting that that Cambridge could play a significant role in driving the country’s economic successes amidst a bleak national picture. This is in...

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University Publishing Online adds six more academic presses

University Publishing Online adds six more academic presses

  From the press release: Cambridge University Press is pleased to announce the addition of six more academic presses to its University Publishing Online (UPO) platform. 2012 will see the addition of content from Anthem Press, Boydell & Brewer, Edinburgh University Press, Nottingham University Press, Pickering & Chatto and the University of Adelaide Press. Launched in October 2011...

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Geeky Cambridge

Geeky Cambridge

Cambridge is 'geekiest' city in the UK. A survey has placed Cambridge as the UK’s technological capital and 'geekiest' city. This puts the city ahead of London, which came only fourth behind fellow technological heavyweights Gloucester and Brighton, claims a new survey by Ebuyer. The University is responsible for training a tech savvy Cambridge population. Oxford proved to be relative luddites as they only managed...

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Improving Science Learning

Improving Science Learning

Less Talk, More Action: Improving Science Learning From The New York Times, By BENEDICT CAREY Published: May 12, 2011 Over the past few years, scientists have been working to transform education from the inside out, by applying findings from learning and memory research where they could do the most good, in the classroom. A study published in the journal Science on Thursday illustrates how promising this...

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Press coverage for the Cambridge iGEM team

Press coverage for the Cambridge iGEM team

 An index of published articles and interviews for iGEM teams at the University of Cambridge - with links to PDFs and audio files.    

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PhD in Cambridge?

PhD Studentships in Cambridge The Board of Graduate Studies manages admission of the University's graduate students. Prospective students should start here - for an introduction to the University of Cambridge, the courses we offer, how to apply for postgraduate study, how your application will be processed, and immigration and other important information. Click here for more information about Cambridge

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Biology at Cambridge

Biology at Cambridge

Click here for the website for the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Undergraduate teaching: The Natural Sciences Tripos is the framework within which most of the science is taught in Cambridge. It is taught by sixteen Departments and includes a wide range of physical and biological sciences and the history and philosophy of science. Postgraduate teaching: The Board of Graduate Studies...

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iGEM2012 recruitment

iGEM2012 recruitment

iGEM is an undergraduate synthetic biology competition where student teams are given a kit of biological parts from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  The aim is to use this kit to design and construct new biological systems and operate them in living cells. The teams will first present the projects at the...

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White House Planning Policy Group on Emerging Technologies

Andrew Maynard
Andrew Maynard
2020 Science

Posted: Apr 12, 2010 at

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) plans to form a new interagency group on emerging technologies, including nanotechnology andsynthetic biology.

The announcement was make by Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at OSTP, at a government-organized workshop on Risk Management Methods and Ethical, Legal, and Societal Implications of Nanotechnology held last week.  The AAAS policy alert (not available on the web yet) noted that the group is intended to provide research funding agencies and regulatory agencies an opportunity to discuss emerging policy issues.

Unfortunately I wasn’t at the workshop in Washington DC where Kalil made his remarks, and so don’t know any more about this than was included in the brief note from AAAS.  However, from what was reported, this seems a sensible move – if carried through thoughtfully.

imageNanotechnology – arguably the US government’s flagship emerging technology – has highlighted the need for smart policy decisions when developing new technologies.  What started as a science-based initiative to promote new research, stimulate innovation and create new jobs, has increasingly become entangled in the social, political and economic impacts of science and technology promotion. 

Ten years after President Clinton established the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) – the initiative that coordinates nanotechnology activities across federal agencies – there remains an uneasy relationship between the desire to drive science discovery and technology innovation, and the need to understand and manage the potential safety, societal and economic impacts of this push.

At the heart of this uneasy relationship is a built-in resistance to asking “un-askable” questions.

The NNI’s vision is “a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.” The vision is built on a belief that increasing our ability to control matter at the nanoscale is essential, that this will lead to a technology revolution, and that this revolution will benefit society.

This is a powerful driver, and has contributed largely to the success of the NNI specifically and nanotechnology more broadly.  But it does mean that people who ask difficult questions tend to be tarred by a brush that’s reserved for whistle blowers and inconvenient activists.

imageThis has been seen in the slow and sometimes reluctant inclusion of research into potential health and environmental impacts under the NNI umbrella; a resistance to developing government-wide policies on developing nanotechnology responsibly (a resistance usually justified by the NNI being a science initiative, not a policy initiative); and negligible efforts to include citizens who stand to gain or loose from nanotechnology as partners in the process (see David Guston’s piece on this for instance). 

There has also been a surprising lack of analysis of the broader economic impacts of nanotechnology promotion – as opposed to the economic benefits.  How many companies and economies have invested in nanotechnology simply because the US set an aggressive lead – and what has been the economic impact of this “follow the leader” mentality?

The reality is that in any initiative dedicated to promoting a given technology, people and organizations that raise issues and recommend actions that threaten to undermine this promotion risk being marginalized.  And this ends up playing into personal and agency self-interest – why give up a position of influence and the promise of funding for the sake of asking difficult questions?

I can only imagine what the response to a NNI member who suggested the usefulness of the initiative should be re-examined would be – I suspect it would not be pretty!  Yet if sound and strategic policies are to be developed that benefit citizens, the “un-askable” questions are often the most important ones.

imageLooking forward, there is a need to develop emerging technology-related policies that are balanced by considerations other than technology promotion. alone But on top of this, there is a need to develop more holistic approaches to emerging technologies in general. 

Nanotechnology is not the only new technology on the block – technologies emerging under the banners of synthetic biology, robotics, geoengineering, cognitive enhancement, and a plethora of others are coming up fast.  Then there are the gray areas between these where convergence leads to increasingly complex and ill-defined technologies.  In the face of accelerating innovation, should policies be developed for each and every new technology that comes along?  This would be exceedingly difficult to achieve now, and an impossible task I suspect a few years down the line.

One solution – and the one the White House seems to be pursuing – is to take a high-level approach to emerging technology policy that ensures cross-agency coordination, identifies emerging hot-spots and enables a balanced and socially-responsible approach to emerging opportunities and issues.  In some ways this is a role that the long-defunct Office of Technology Assessment within the US Congress played.  But looking to an increasingly technologically-complex future, I suspect that a complete rethink of how to ensure the benefits of new technologies are realized and the dangers avoided is needed.

Depending on how it develops, the new White House interagency group could well lead to coordinated action on emerging technologies that ensures policies are responsive to the needs of citizens – not just those who have a vested interest in technology promotion.  But I can guarantee it will hit resistance from agencies, organizations and individuals who stand to loose out from this move – including those who stand to lose funding or influence as a result of it. 

Yet if the US government is to embrace technology development that benefits society as a whole – especially in light of President Obama’s Innovation Strategy – it surely must create a policy forum where the “un-askable” questions can be asked; where no one interest group within the government can dominate proceedings; and where hurdles to social and economic prosperity can be identified, assessed and addressed without fear of agencies and individuals being marginalized.

Done right, this could be a critical step toward the US developing a 21st century approach to 21st century technologies.

Andrew Maynard is Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

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Research Studies

PhD Studentships in Cambridge

The Board of Graduate Studies manages admission of the University's graduate students. Prospective students should start here - for an introduction to the University of Cambridge, the courses we offer, how to apply for postgraduate study, how your application will be processed, and immigration and other important information.

Click here for more information about Cambridge

OpenLabTools: open technology in Cambridge


The OpenLabTools Project is a new initiative for the development of low cost and open access scientific tools at the University of Cambridge. With support from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, student projects include data acquisition, sensing, actuating, processing and 3D manufacturing, see the website.