Category Archives: Cambridge

Julius Rix works on systems that will be used to drill through ice to extract samples.

The Ice Stuff

There is no visible horizon in the waters beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. So electrical engineer Jim O’Sullivan built an artificial one for the pilot of the submersible remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that he and a team of scientists were testing there in 2008. The team didn’t lack for data: The ROV’s orientation, speed, and depth were numerically displayed on the pilot’s screen. But it is difficult to convert numbers into spatial awareness. The ROV was at risk of crashing into the delicate creatures, such as sea spiders, that it was supposed to be observing.

Fortunately, O’Sullivan had come across a similar problem in a different setting: aviation. As a pilot, he had an instrument rating, “which was useful for understanding how to navigate without being able to see,” he recalls. When flying blind, pilots use half a dozen different instruments to maintain their situational awareness, including an artificial horizon. O’Sullivan found open-source software that could convert the ROV’s telemetry data to display an artificial, underwater horizon. This example of engineering on (and under) “the Ice,”—as Antarctica is known—demonstrates the need for ingenuity and improvisation beyond anything training can provide. Continue reading

Biological logic

nature_cover_091126Grabbing one of the three laptops in her office at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, Jasmin Fisher flips open the lid and starts to describe how she and her collaborators used an approach from computer science to make a discovery in molecular biology. Fisher glances across her desk to where her collaborator, Nir Piterman of Imperial College London, is watching restlessly. “I know you could do this faster,” she says to Piterman, who is also her husband. “But you are a computer scientist and I am a biologist and we must be patient.”

Continue reading

A Memorable Device

science_cover090313It was over drinks at a local pub in the spring of 2006 that cognitive psychologist Martin Conway of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom first told his colleague Chris Moulin about using a wearable camera for memory research. But it took more than a few pints of beer to convince Moulin that SenseCam, a camera that periodically takes still photos while worn on the user’s chest, might be a game-changer in the study of what psychologists call autobiographical memory. Although skeptical of the small device’s usefulness, Moulin did finally agree to take one for a test drive.

Continue reading

Light Show

Cambridge University Sheds Light on Darwin

The University of Cambridge rang in its 800th anniversary with church bells and a light show on Saturday the 17th. The light show, created by projection artist Ross Ashton, included specially commissioned illustrations of Cambridge alumni Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton by Roald Dahl’s illustrator, Quentin Blake. Above, a graying Darwin ponders the tree of life, whose branches recapitulate the origins of the species. Other images evoked the scientific, musical, and debaucherous achievements of 800 years of Cambridge students and alumni.

See all the photos at Science Magazine’s new Darwin blog [html].