Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the second-oldest surviving university in the world, after the University of Bologna. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge, where they established what became the University of Cambridge.
The University is made up from a variety of institutions, including 38 constituent colleges and a full range of academic departments which are organised into four Divisions. Most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organised around weekly tutorials at the self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work provided by university faculties and departments. Oxford has nurtured many prominent alumni, and fifty-eight Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the university. It regularly contends with Cambridge for the first place in the UK league tables. It has also been the home of two of the most prestigious graduate scholarships, the Rhodes Scholarship, which has brought international students to read at the university for more than a century, and the Clarendon Scholarships.
University of Oxford research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Bacteria-powered ‘windfarm’ could provide a steady power source for micromachines – July 9, 2016
- Helium shortage averted for now via a new exploration technique – July 2, 2016
- Antimatter changed physics, and the discovery of antimemories could revolutionise neuroscience – April 2, 2016
- Perovskite solar cell material can recycle light to seriously boost efficiency – March 26, 2016
- Drug development crisis linked to bad technology choices, experts argue – February 17, 2016
- Will computers ever really understand what we’re saying? – January 14, 2016
- New laptop program can identify drug resistance from bacterial genomes – December 27, 2015
- Computing with Time Travel – December 13, 2015
- Researchers learn how to steer the heart — with light – October 20, 2015
- Light-Based Memory Chip Is the First Ever to Store Data Permanently – October 5, 2015
- Permanent Data Storage with Light – September 23, 2015
- China Is Building The Mother Of All Reputation Systems To Monitor Citizen Behavior – September 21, 2015
- Glasses Let the Legally Blind See Again – June 19, 2015
- LiFi internet breakthrough: 224Gbps connection broadcast with an LED bulb – February 21, 2015
- Geoengineering our climate is not a ‘quick fix’ – November 28, 2014
- Researchers discover natural resistance gene against spruce budworm – November 26, 2014
- Seeding plant diversity for future generations – September 27, 2014
- Superabsorbing ring could make light work of great pictures – September 21, 2014
- An improved Malaria vaccine given via microneedle patch – September 14, 2014
- ‘Nano-pixels’ promise thin, flexible high-res displays – July 11, 2014
- Computer spots rare diseases in family photos – July 1, 2014
- Can software suffer? The complicated ethics of brain emulation – May 31, 2014
- Humans not the only thinking creatures . . . – May 23, 2014
- University of Oxford develops low-cost self-driving car system
- Quantum state world record smashed
- All aboard the nanotrain network
- ‘Smart Glasses’ Could Help Blind People Navigate
- Nearly half of US jobs could be at risk of computerization, Oxford Martin School study shows
- Paralysis promises smart silk technology
- Spread of crop pests threatens global food security as Earth warms
- Cultured Beef: Do We Really Need a $380,000 Burger Grown in Petri Dishes?
- Unusual Material Expands Dramatically Under Pressure
- The balancing act of producing more food sustainably
- Vitamin B for Alzheimer’s and dementia delay and protection, new research study
- How are humans going to become extinct?
- 3-D Printer Can Build Synthetic Tissues
- Gene Test Predicts Cancer Treatment Success
- World first: device keeps human liver alive outside body
- Armchair Science: Bag and Tag Glowing Galactic Clouds
- Hackers backdoor the human brain, successfully extract sensitive data
- Strength in Numbers: Citizen Scientists Lending More Helping Hands (and Handhelds) to Help the Pros
- Warming Climate Sees Tundra Turn to Forest
- Social Networks, Small and Smaller
- Tackle Fungal Forces to Save Crops, Forests and Endangered Animals
- Metaphorical search engine finds creative new meanings
- Ethical Questions Surround “Electrical Thinking Cap” That Improves Mental Functions
- Breakthrough in Oxford malaria research
- Stimulating brain with electricity aids learning speed
- New Drug Discovery Proposal Calls for Shared Data, Limited Intellectual Property
- How Can Humanity Avoid or Reverse the Dangers Posed by a Warming Climate?
- Harnessing Tidal Energy More Efficiently Than Ever Before
- Making Payments Via Cell Phones
Many infectious pathogens are difficult to treat because they develop into biofilms, layers of metabolically active but slowly growing bacteria embedded in a protective layer of slime, which are inherently more resistant to antibiotics. Now, a group of researchers at Caltech and the University of Oxford have made progress in the fight against biofilms.
The group identified a protein that degrades and inhibits biofilms of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the primary pathogen in cystic fibrosis (CF) infections.
Aeruginosa enters a biofilm mode of growth in these contexts; biofilms tolerate conventional antibiotics much better than other modes of bacterial growth.
Pyocyanin has been used in the clinical identification of this strain for over a century, but several years ago the Newman group demonstrated that the molecule also supports biofilm growth, raising the possibility that its degradation might offer a new route to inhibit biofilm development.
“While there is precedent for the use of enzymes to treat bacterial infections, the novelty of this study lies in our observation that selectively degrading a small pigment that supports the biofilm lifestyle can inhibit biofilm expansion,” says Costa, the first author on the study.
While it will take several years of experimentation to determine whether the laboratory findings can be translated to a clinical context, the work has promise for the utilization of proteins like PodA to treat antibiotic-resistant biofilm infections, the researchers say.
Research from the University of Surrey reveals scientists are able to improve the efficiency of solar cells more than threefold
·The solar cells are a flexible, lightweight and environmentally-friendly and have the capacity to be printed in different colours and shapes
·The solar cells are a contrast to their inorganic competitors as they also convert efficiently indirect sunlight, making them ideal material to power devices on the move, such as for the Internet of Things
Researchers at the University of Surrey have achieved record power conversion efficiencies for large area organic solar cells. In recent years scientists have been attempting to increase the efficiency of these cells to allow commercial applications such as integration into a building’s glass façade, generating electricity to power the building.
The research was led by the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) in collaboration with Oxford University, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), and University of Stuttgart (Germany). The project is part of SMARTONICS, a four-year European Commission FP7 programme aimed at developing large-scale pilot lines for the fabrication and printing of organic polymer solar cells.
The results, published in Advanced Electronic Materials, demonstrate that dependencies between the chemical and physical properties of the photoactive layer’s building blocks within organic solar cells determine the efficiency of these solar cells. By using a well-known and low cost electron donating material (P3HT) in combination with an electron accepting material (ICBA) for the photosensitive layer of the organic solar cells, the research team discovered that different ICBA samples consist of dissimilar isomeric mixtures (isomers are molecules with the same number of atoms of each element, but with the atoms differently arranged). These characteristics are critical for the formation kinetics and spatial arrangement of P3HT and ICBA in their photosensitive blend and lead to varying power conversion efficiencies.
Tailoring the fabrication process based on these findings, the research team were able to improve the efficiency of their solar cells from 2.2% up to 6.7%. This is one of the highest efficiencies to have been reported for P3HT blends on a large-area device.
Professor Ravi Silva, corresponding author and Director of the ATI commented, “Solar cells made of organic materials have a number of benefits over traditional inorganic solar cells – and more so when the organic is P3HT, the fruit fly for organic solar cells. Not only are they flexible, lightweight and environmentally-friendly, they are also design-friendly because they can be semi-transparent and printed in different colours and shapes. In addition, in contrast to their inorganic competitors, they convert efficiently indirect sunlight, which makes them an ideal material to power devices on the move, such as for the Internet of Things. Our group is looking to expand research in this field, with more PhD students and researchers, which will have such a positive impact on society.”
PhD student Dimitar Kutsarov, the paper’s lead author, said, “The research represents a significant step forward in the understanding of the characteristics of materials with isomeric properties, which will lead to a future improvement of the efficiency of organic solar cells. We know now how important the spatial arrangement of the isomeric molecules is and will, therefore, be able to push the efficiency of P3HT-based solar cells further. Our findings will be used for the fabrication of meters long organic solar cells as part of the successful completion of the collaborative European project SMARTONICS.”
A Polish-British team of physicists has constructed and tested a compact, efficient converter capable of modifying the quantum properties of individual photons. The new device should facilitate the construction of complex quantum computers, and in the future may become an important element in global quantum networks, the successors of today’s Internet.
Quantum internet and hybrid quantum computers, built out of subsystems that operate by means of various physical phenomena, are now becoming more than just the stuff of imagination. In an article just published in the prestigious journal Nature Photonics, physicists from the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Physics (FUW) and the University of Oxford have unveiled a key element of such systems: an electro-optical device that enables the properties of individual photons to be modified. Unlike existing laboratory constructions, this new device works with previously unattainable efficiency and is at the same time stable, reliable, and compact.
Building an efficient device for modifying the quantum state of individual photons was an exceptionally challenging task, given the fundamental differences between classical and quantum computing.
Contemporary computing systems are based on the processing of groups of bits, each of which is in a specific, well-known state: either 0 or 1. Groups of such bits are continually being transferred both between different subcomponents within a single computer, and between different computers on the network. We can illustrate this figuratively by imagining a situation in which trays of coins are being moved from place to place, with each coin laying either with the heads side or the tails side facing upwards.
Things are more complicated in quantum computing, which relies on the phenomenon of superposition of states. A quantum bit, known as a qubit, can be both in the 1 state and the 0 state at the same time. To continue the analogy described above, this would be like a situation in which each coin is spinning on its edge. Information processing can be described as “quantum” processing as long as this superposition of states can be retained during all operations – in other words, as long as none of the coins gets tipped out of the spinning state while the tray is being moved.
“In recent years, physicists have figured out how to generate light pulses with a specific wavelength or polarization, consisting of a single quantum – or excitation – of the electromagnetic field. And so today we know how to generate precisely whatever kind of quantum ‘spinning coins’ we want,” says Dr. Michal Karpinski from the Institute of Experimental Physics (FUW), one of the authors of the publication. “But achieving one thing always leaves you wanting more! If we now have individual light quanta with specific properties, it would be useful to modify those properties. The task is therefore more or less this: take a spinning silver coin and move it from one place to another, but along the way quickly and precisely turn it into a gold coin, naturally without tipping it over. You can easily see that the problem is nontrivial.”
Existing methods of modifying individual photons have utilized nonlinear optical techniques, in practice attempting to force an individual photon to interact with a very strong optical pump beam. Whether the photon so subjected actually gets modified is a matter of pure chance. Moreover, the scattering of the pump beam may contaminate the stream of individual photons. In constructing the new device, the group from the University of Warsaw and the University of Oxford decided to make use of a different physical phenomenon: the electro-optic effect occurring in certain crystals. It provides a way to alter the index of refraction for light in the crystal – by varying the intensity of an external magnetic force that is applied to it (in other words, without introducing any additional photons!).
“It is quite astounding that in order to modify the quantum properties of individual photons, we can successfully apply techniques very similar to those used in standard fiber-optic telecommunications,” Dr. Karpinski says.
Using the new device, the researchers managed – without disrupting the quantum superposition! – to achieve a six-fold lengthening of the duration of a single-photon pulse, which automatically means a narrowing of its spectrum. What is particularly important is that the whole operation was carried out while preserving very high conversion efficiency. Existing converters have operated only under laboratory conditions and were only able to modify one in several tens of photons. The new device works with efficiency in excess of 30%, up to even 200 times better than certain existing solutions, while retaining a low level of noise.
“In essence we process every photon entering the crystal. The efficiency is less than 100% not because of the physics of the phenomenon, but on account of hard-to-avoid losses of a purely technical nature, appearing for instance when light enters of exits optical fibers,” explains PhD student Michal Jachura (FUW).
The new converter is not only efficient and low-noise, but also stable and compact: the device can be contained in a box with dimension not much larger than 10 cm (4 in.), easy to install in an optical fiber system channeling individual photons. Such a device enables us to think realistically about building, for instance, a hybrid quantum computer, the individual subcomponents of which would process information a quantum way using different physical platforms and phenomena. At present, attempts are being made to build quantum computers using, among others, trapped ions, electron spins in diamond, quantum dots, superconducting electric circuits, and atomic clouds. Each such system interacts with light of different properties, which in practice rules out optical transmission of quantum information between different systems. The new converter, on the other hand, can efficiently transform single-photon pulses of light compatible with one system into pulses compatible with another. Scientists are therefore gaining at a real pathway to building quantum networks, both small ones within a single quantum computer (or subcomponent thereof), and global ones providing a way to send data completely securely between quantum computers situated in different parts of the world.
Launched in July this year, Pokémon Go has become a global phenomenon, reaching 500 million downloads within two months of release.
The augmented reality game, designed for mobile devices, allows users to capture, battle and train virtual creatures called Pokémon that appear on screen as if part of the real-world environment.
But can the game’s enormous success deliver any lessons to the fields of natural history and conservation?
A new paper by a group of researchers from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and University College London (UCL) explores whether Pokémon Go’s success in getting people out of their homes and interacting with virtual ‘animals’ could be replicated to redress what is often perceived as a decline in interest in the natural world among the general public.
Or, could the game’s popularity pose more problems than opportunities for conservation?
Study author Leejiah Dorward, a doctoral candidate in Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘When Pokémon Go first came out, one of the most striking things was its similarity with many of the concepts seen in natural history and conservation. The basic facts and information about Pokémon Go make it sound like an incredibly successful citizen science project, rather than a smartphone game.
‘We wanted to explore how the success of Pokémon Go might create opportunities or challenges for the conservation movement.’
Co-author John C Mittermeier, a doctoral candidate in Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, said: ‘There is a widespread belief that interest in natural history is waning and that people are less interested in spending time outside and exploring the natural world.
‘Pokémon Go is only one step removed from natural history activities like bird watching or insect collecting: Pokémon exist as “real” creatures that can be spotted and collected, and the game itself has been getting people outdoors. What’s going on here, and can we as conservationists take advantage of it?’
In the paper, the researchers explain that Pokémon Go has been shown to inspire high levels of behavioural change among its users, with people making significant adjustments to their daily routines and to the amount of time spent outside in order to increase their chances of encountering target ‘species’. There is also evidence that users are discovering non-virtual wildlife while playing Pokémon Go, leading to the Twitter hashtag #Pokeblitz that helps people identify ‘real’ species found and photographed during play.
Pokémon Go, the researchers write, exposes users first hand to basic natural history concepts such as species’ habitat preferences and variations in abundance. ‘Grass Pokémon’, for example, tend to appear in parks, while water-related types are more likely to be found close to bodies of water. There are also four regional species that are continent restricted: Tauros to the Americas, Mr Mime to Western Europe, Farfetch’d to Asia, and the marsupial-like Kangaskhan to Australasia. This differentiation captures a fundamental aspect of natural history observation – that exploring new habitats and continents will lead to encounters with different species.
And hundreds of people congregated near New York’s Central Park one night over the summer to try to find a rare Vaporeon – something that will sound familiar to birdwatchers used to similar gatherings to see a rare species.
The authors write: ‘The spectacular success of Pokémon Go provides significant lessons for conservation. Importantly, it suggests that conservation is continuing to lag behind Pokémon in efforts to inspire interest in its portfolio of species.
‘There is clear potential to modify Pokémon Go itself to increase conservation content and impact above and beyond simply bringing gamers into closer physical proximity to non-human wildlife as a by-product of the game. Pokémon Go could be adapted to enhance conservation benefits by: a) making Pokémon biology and ecology more realistic; b) adding real species to the Pokémon Go universe to introduce those species to a huge number of users, and creating opportunities to raise awareness about them; c) deliberately placing Pokémon in more remote natural settings rather than urban areas to draw people to experience non-urban nature; or d) adding a mechanism for users to catalogue real species, building on the popularity of the “Pokeblitz” concept.
‘Less directly, lessons from Pokémon Go could be applied to conservation through the development of new conservation-focused augmented reality (AR) games. Following the model of Pokémon Go, games that encourage users to look for real species could provide a powerful tool for education and engagement. AR could also be used in zoos and protected areas to provide visitors with information about species and their habitats.’
However, the researchers caution that the success of Pokémon Go could also bring challenges: for example, it may be that this type of augmented reality – featuring engaging, brightly coloured fictional creatures – could replace people’s desire to interact with real-world nature, or the focus on catching and battling Pokémon may encourage exploitation of wildlife. There has also been controversy in the Netherlands, where Pokémon Go players have been blamed for damage caused to a protected dune system south of The Hague.
Co-author Dr Chris Sandbrook, a senior lecturer at UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said: ‘Just getting people outside does not guarantee a conservation success from Pokémon Go. It might actually make things worse – for example, if interest in finding a rare Vaporeon replaces concern for real species threatened with extinction. Real nature could be seen as just a mundane backdrop for more exciting virtual wildlife.’
Leejiah Dorward added: ‘One of the positive things about Pokémon Go is that there’s a very low barrier for entry. As long as you have a smartphone, you can play – and the game itself does a lot of things for you. Finding ways to break down barriers to engagement with real-life nature is a priority for conservation. Pokémon are also relatable “characters”, whereas modern conservation tends to frame itself purely in scientific terms, which may be off-putting to many.
‘There is something called the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests that people have an in-built affinity with nature and a desire to explore the natural world. If that’s one of the reasons Pokémon Go has proved to be so popular – because it’s a natural history proxy – then that could be a huge boost to conservation. It’s possible that the desire to connect with nature is there and to get people to engage with conservation we just need to “sell” it correctly.’
Researchers at the University of Oxford have demonstrated that the diets of organisms can affect the DNA sequences of their genes.
In a study on two groups of parasites, the team detected differences in DNA sequences that could be attributed to the composition of their food.
The results are published in the journal Genome Biology.
Study co-author Dr Steven Kelly, from Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences, said: ‘Organisms construct their DNA using building blocks they get from food. Our hypothesis was that the composition of this food could alter an organism’s DNA. For example, could a vegetarian panda have predictable genetic differences from a meat-eating polar bear?
‘To test this hypothesis, we picked simple groups of parasites to use as a model system. These parasites share a common ancestor but have evolved to infect different hosts and eat very different foods.
‘We found that different levels of nitrogen in a parasite’s diet contributed to changes in its DNA. Specifically, parasites with low-nitrogen, high-sugar diets had DNA sequences that used less nitrogen than parasites with nitrogen-rich, high-protein diets.’
The study involved groups of eukaryotic parasites (Kinetoplastida) and bacterial parasites (Mollicutes) that infect different plant or animal hosts.
The results, based on novel mathematical models developed by the researchers, reveal a previously hidden relationship between cellular metabolism and evolution. They provide new insights into how DNA sequences can be influenced by adaptation to different diets.
Furthermore, the team found it is possible to predict the diets of related organisms by analysing the DNA sequence of their genes.
Study co-author Emily Seward, a doctoral candidate in Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences, said: ‘It has been unclear why very closely related organisms can look so different in their genetic makeup. By bringing together two fundamental aspects of biology – metabolism and genetics – we have advanced our understanding of this area.
‘It’s a difficult question to answer, because there are so many factors that can influence the DNA sequence of an organism. But our study explains a very high percentage of these differences and provides evidence that we really are what we eat.
‘We are now looking at more complex organisms to see if we will find the same thing.’
Researchers have created a new type of solar cell that replaces silicon with a crystal called perovskite. This design converts sunlight to electricity at efficiencies similar to current technology but at much lower cost.
A new design for solar cells that uses inexpensive, commonly available materials could rival and even outperform conventional cells made of silicon.
Writing in the Oct. 21 edition ofScience, researchers from Stanford and Oxford describe using tin and other abundant elements to create novel forms of perovskite – a photovoltaic crystalline material that’s thinner, more flexible and easier to manufacture than silicon crystals.
“Perovskite semiconductors have shown great promise for making high-efficiency solar cells at low cost,” said study co-author Michael McGehee, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford. “We have designed a robust, all-perovskite device that converts sunlight into electricity with an efficiency of 20.3 percent, a rate comparable to silicon solar cells on the market today.”
The new device consists of two perovskite solar cells stacked in tandem. Each cell is printed on glass, but the same technology could be used to print the cells on plastic, McGehee added.
“The all-perovskite tandem cells we have demonstrated clearly outline a roadmap for thin-film solar cells to deliver over 30 percent efficiency,” said co-author Henry Snaith, a professor of physics at Oxford. “This is just the beginning.”
Previous studies showed that adding a layer of perovskite can improve the efficiency of silicon solar cells. But a tandem device consisting of two all-perovskite cells would be cheaper and less energy-intensive to build, the authors said.
“A silicon solar panel begins by converting silica rock into silicon crystals through a process that involves temperatures above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius),” said co-lead author Tomas Leijtens, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford. “Perovskite cells can be processed in a laboratory from common materials like lead, tin and bromine, then printed on glass at room temperature.”
But building an all-perovskite tandem device has been a difficult challenge. The main problem is creating stable perovskite materials capable of capturing enough energy from the sun to produce a decent voltage.
A typical perovskite cell harvests photons from the visible part of the solar spectrum. Higher-energy photons can cause electrons in the perovskite crystal to jump across an “energy gap” and create an electric current.
A solar cell with a small energy gap can absorb most photons but produces a very low voltage. A cell with a larger energy gap generates a higher voltage, but lower-energy photons pass right through it.
An efficient tandem device would consist of two ideally matched cells, said co-lead author Giles Eperon, an Oxford postdoctoral scholar currently at the University of Washington.
“The cell with the larger energy gap would absorb higher-energy photons and generate an additional voltage,” Eperon said. “The cell with the smaller energy gap can harvest photons that aren’t collected by the first cell and still produce a voltage.”
The smaller gap has proven to be the bigger challenge for scientists. Working together, Eperon and Leijtens used a unique combination of tin, lead, cesium, iodine and organic materials to create an efficient cell with a small energy gap.
“We developed a novel perovskite that absorbs lower-energy infrared light and delivers a 14.8 percent conversion efficiency,” Eperon said. “We then combined it with a perovskite cell composed of similar materials but with a larger energy gap.”
The result: A tandem device consisting of two perovskite cells with a combined efficiency of 20.3 percent.
“There are thousands of possible compounds for perovskites,” Leijtens added, “but this one works very well, quite a bit better than anything before it.”
One concern with perovskites is stability. Rooftop solar panels made of silicon typically last 25 years or more. But some perovskites degrade quickly when exposed to moisture or light. In previous experiments, perovskites made with tin were found to be particularly unstable.
To assess stability, the research team subjected both experimental cells to temperatures of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) for four days.
“Crucially, we found that our cells exhibit excellent thermal and atmospheric stability, unprecedented for tin-based perovskites,” the authors wrote.
“The efficiency of our tandem device is already far in excess of the best tandem solar cells made with other low-cost semiconductors, such as organic small molecules and microcrystalline silicon,” McGehee said. “Those who see the potential realize that these results are amazing.”
The next step is to optimize the composition of the materials to absorb more light and generate an even higher current, Snaith said.
“The versatility of perovskites, the low cost of materials and manufacturing, now coupled with the potential to achieve very high efficiencies, will be transformative to the photovoltaic industry once manufacturability and acceptable stability are also proven,” he said.
Hydrogen is often described as the fuel of the future, particularly when applied to hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. One of the main obstacles facing this technology – a potential solution to future sustainable transport – has been the lack of a lightweight, safe on-board hydrogen storage material.
A major new discovery by scientists at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Cardiff in the UK, and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia, has shown that hydrocarbon wax rapidly releases large amounts of hydrogen when activated with catalysts and microwaves.
This discovery of a potential safe storage method, reported in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, could pave the way for widespread adoption of hydrogen-fuelled cars.
Study co-author Professor Peter Edwards, who leads the KACST-Oxford Petrochemical Research Centre (KOPRC), a KACST Centre of Excellence in Petrochemicals at Oxford University, said: ‘This discovery of a safe, efficient hydrogen storage and production material can open the door to the large-scale application of fuel cells in vehicles.’
Co-author Dr Tiancun Xiao, a senior research fellow at Oxford University, said: ‘Our discovery – that hydrogen can be easily and instantly extracted from wax, a benign material that can be manufactured from sustainable processes – is a major step forward. Wax will not catch fire or contaminate the environment. It is also safe for drivers and passengers.’
Co-author Professor Hamid Al-Megren, from the Materials Research Institute at KACST, said: ‘This is an exciting development – it will allow society to utilise fossil fuels or renewable-derived wax to generate on-board hydrogen for fuel cell applications without releasing any carbon dioxide into the air.’
Hydrocarbons are natural, hydrogen-rich resources with well-established infrastructures. The research team has developed highly selective catalysts with the assistance of microwave irradiation, which can extract hydrogen from hydrocarbons instantly through a non-oxidative dehydrogenation process. This will help unlock the longstanding bottleneck hindering the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel technology.
Co-author Professor Angus Kirkland, from the Department of Materials at Oxford University and Science Director at the new electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC) at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, described the breakthrough as an exemplar of how Oxford is able to respond to key academic and industrial problems by using interdisciplinary resources and expertise.
Co-author Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas, from the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, said the work could be extended so that many of the liquid components of refined petroleum and inexpensive solid catalysts can pave the way for the generation of massive quantities of high-purity hydrogen for other commercial uses, including CO2-free energy production.
Professor Edwards added: ‘Instead of burning fossil fuels, leading to CO2, we use them to generate hydrogen, which with fuel cells produces electric power and pure water. This is the future – transportation without CO2 and hot air.’
University of Oxford surgeons at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital have performed the world’s first operation inside the eye using a robot.
Robert MacLaren, Professor of Ophthalmology. assisted by Dr Thomas Edwards, Nuffield Medical Fellow, used the remotely controlled robot to lift a membrane 100th of a millimetre thick from the retina at the back of the right eye of the Revd Dr William Beaver, 70, an Associate Priest at St Mary the Virgin, Iffley, Oxford. He is the first patient ever to undergo this experimental procedure.
We have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future.
Professor Robert MacLaren, Nuffield Laboratory of Opthalmology
The Robotic Retinal Dissection Device (R2D2) trial is sponsored by the University of Oxford and funded by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre with support from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital. Additional funding was provided by Zizoz, a Dutch charity for patients with choroideremia, a genetic form of blindness.
The robot needs to operate inside the eye through a single hole that is less than 1 mm in diameter and it needs to go in and out of the eye through this same hole during various steps of the procedure, even though the eye may rotate.
The device is designed to eliminate unwanted tremors in the surgeon’s hand – such as through their pulse – so tiny surgical manipulations can be safely carried out within the eye.
The robot acts like a mechanical hand with seven independent computer-controlled motors resulting in movements as precise as 1000th of a millimetre in scale.
In the case of Father Beaver, the patient for this first operation, a membrane growing on the surface of his retina had contracted and pulled it into an uneven shape. This leads to a distorted image, like looking in a hall of mirrors at a fairground. The membrane is about 100th of a millimetre thick and needed to be dissected off the retina without damaging it.
Surgeons can just about do this by slowing their pulse and timing movements between heart beats, but the robot could make it much easier. Moreover, the robot could enable new, high-precision procedures that are currently out of the reach of the human hand.
The surgeon uses a joystick and touchscreen outside the eye to control the robot whilst monitoring its progress through the operating microscope. This gives the surgeon a notable advantage as significant movements of the joystick result in tiny movements of the robot.
Whilst robots have been developed for large scale surgery, such as in the abdomen, until now no device has been available that achieves the three dimensional precision required to operate inside the human eye. The device has been developed by Preceyes BV, a Dutch medical robotics firm established by the University of Eindhoven. Over the last 18 months, the Preceyes engineers and the team at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology have worked together to plan this landmark clinical trial. This has resulted in the world first robotic surgery inside the human eye.
On completing the operation, Professor Robert MacLaren said: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that we have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future.
‘Current technology with laser scanners and microscopes allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but the things we see are beyond the physiological limit of what the human hand can operate on. With a robotic system, we open up a whole new chapter of eye operations that currently cannot be performed.’
Speaking at his follow up visit at the Oxford Eye Hospital, Father Beaver said, ‘My sight is coming back. I am delighted that my surgery went so well and I feel honoured to be part of this pioneering research project.’
Professor MacLaren added, ‘This will help to develop novel surgical treatments for blindness, such as gene therapy and stem cells, which need to be inserted under the retina with a high degree of precision.’
The current robotic eye surgery trial will involve 12 patients in total and involves operations with increasing complexity. In the first part of the trial, the robot is used to peel membranes off the delicate retina without damaging it. If this part is successful, as has been the case so far, the second phase of the trial will assess how the robot can place a fine needle under the retina and inject fluid through it. This will lead to use of the robot in retinal gene therapy, which is a promising new treatment for blindness which is currently being trialled in a number of centres around the world. This follows on from the successful gene therapy trials led by researchers at the Oxford Eye Hospital and includes developing treatments for retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that is one of the most common causes of blindness in young people and age-related macular degeneration, which affects the older age group.
Learn more: World first for robot eye operation
Two years ago, a research team led by the University of Oxford revealed that, when plucked like a guitar string, spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies, carrying information about prey, mates and even the structural integrity of a web.
Now, a new collaboration between Oxford and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid has confirmed that spider webs are superbly tuned instruments for vibration transmission – and that the type of information being sent can be controlled by adjusting factors such as web tension and stiffness.
Researchers from the Oxford Silk Group, along with collaborators in Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid’s Department of Continuum Mechanics and Structural Analysis, have studied the links between web vibration and web silk properties.
Their report in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface concludes that spider web vibration is affected by changes in web tension, silk stiffness and web architecture, all of which the spider is able to control.
Web-dwelling spiders have poor vision and rely almost exclusively on web vibrations for their ‘view’ of the world. The musical patterns coming from their tuned webs provide them with crucial information on the type of prey caught in the web and of predators approaching, as well as the quality of prospective mates. Spiders carefully engineer their webs out of a range of silks to control web architecture, tension and stiffness, analogous to constructing and tuning a musical instrument.
In order to study how vibrations propagate through a web, a combination of cutting-edge techniques was employed by the interdisciplinary and multinational team. High-powered lasers were able to experimentally measure the ultra-small vibrations, which allowed the team to generate and test computer models using mathematical finite element analysis. The combination of these techniques probes the links between the propagation of vibrations and silk material properties.
These new observations propose that the spider can use behaviour and silk properties to control the function of its web instrument. These control mechanisms could alter vibration filtering, as well as orientation to and discrimination of vibration sources in the web.
Dr Beth Mortimer, lead author of the report, which made use of the garden cross spider Araneus diadematus, said: ‘Spider orb webs are multifunctional structures, where both the transmission of vibrations and the capture of prey are important.’
Professor Fritz Vollrath, Head of the Oxford Silk Group, added: ‘It is down to the interaction of the web materials, a range of bespoke web silks, and the spider with its highly tuned behaviour and armoury of sensors that allows this virtually blind animal to operate in a gossamer world of its own making, without vision and only relying on feeling. Perhaps the web spider can teach us something new about virtual vision.’
A team of scientists has discovered an unexpected disruption in one of the most repeatable atmospheric patterns
The normal flow of air high up in the atmosphere over the equator, known as the quasi-biennial oscillation, was seen to break down earlier this year. These stratospheric winds are found high above the tropics, their direction and strength changes in a regular two- to three-year cycle which provides forecasters with an indication of the weather to expect in Northern Europe. Westerly winds are known to increase the chance of warm and wet conditions, while easterlies bring drier and colder weather.
Scientists from NCAS at the University of Oxford and the Met Office were part of an international team that observed the unusual behaviour in February, noticing a reversal of the expected pattern in the winds. This same team then identified the reason why.
The quasi-biennial oscillation is a regular feature of the climate system. On average, these equatorial eastward and westward winds alternate every 28 to 29 months, making them very predictable in the long term. The team’s findings published in Science this week, show that this unexpected change in wind direction was caused by atmospheric waves in the Northern Hemisphere.
Dr Scott Osprey, an NCAS scientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The recent disruption in the quasi-biennial oscillation was not predicted, not even one month ahead. If we can get to the bottom of why the normal pattern was affected in this way, we could develop more confidence in our future seasonal forecasts.”
Prof Adam Scaife, Head of Long-range Forecasting at the Met Office and Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Exeter, said: “This unexpected disruption to the climate system switches the cycling of the quasi-biennial oscillation forever. And this is important as it is one of the factors that will influence the coming winter.”
A return to more typical behaviour within the next year is forecast, though scientists believe that the quasi-biennial oscillation could become more susceptible to similar disruptions as the climate warms.
Later this month international research groups will meet in Oxford to discuss the origins and implications of this event.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have achieved a quantum logic gate with record-breaking 99.9% precision, reaching the benchmark required theoretically to build a quantum computer.
Quantum computers, which function according to the laws of quantum physics, have the potential to dwarf the processing power of today’s computers, able to process huge amounts of information all at once.
The team achieved the logic gate, which places two atoms in a state of quantum entanglement and is the fundamental building block of quantum computing, with a precision (or fidelity) substantially greater than the previous world record. Quantum entanglement — a phenomenon described by Einstein as ‘spooky’ but which is at the heart of quantum technologies — occurs when two particles stay connected, such that an action on one affects the other, even when they are separated by great distances.
The research, carried out by scientists from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (NQIT), which is led by Oxford University, is reported in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Dr Chris Ballance, a research fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford and lead author of the paper, said: ‘The development of a “quantum computer” is one of the outstanding technological challenges of the 21st century. A quantum computer is a machine that processes information according to the rules of quantum physics, which govern the behaviour of microscopic particles at the scale of atoms and smaller.
‘An important point is that it is not merely a different technology for computing in the same way our everyday computers work; it is at a very fundamental level a different way of processing information. It turns out that this quantum-mechanical way of manipulating information gives quantum computers the ability to solve certain problems far more efficiently than any conceivable conventional computer. One such problem is related to breaking secure codes, while another is searching large data sets. Quantum computers are naturally well-suited to simulating other quantum systems, which may help, for example, our understanding of complex molecules relevant to chemistry and biology.’
Quantum technology is a complex area, but one analogy that has been used to explain the concept of quantum computing is that it is like being able to read all of the books in a library at the same time, whereas conventional computing is like having to read them one after another. This may be over-simplistic, but it is useful in conveying the way in which quantum computing has the potential to revolutionise the field.
Professor David Lucas, of Oxford University’s Department of Physics and Balliol College, Oxford, a co-author of the paper, said: ‘The concept of “quantum entanglement” is fundamental to quantum computing and describes a situation where two quantum objects — in our case, two individual atoms — share a joint quantum state. That means, for example, that measuring a property of one of the atoms tells you something about the other.
‘A quantum logic gate is an operation which can take two independent atoms and put them into this special entangled state. The precision of the gate is a measure of how well this works: in our case, 99.9% precision means that, on average, 999 times out of 1,000 we will have generated the entangled state correctly, and one time out of 1,000 something went wrong.
‘To put this in context, quantum theory says that – as far as anyone has found so far – you simply can’t build a quantum computer at all if the precision drops below about 99%. At the 99.9% level you can build a quantum computer in theory, but in practice it could very difficult and thus enormously expensive. If, in the future, a precision of 99.99% can be attained, the prospects look a lot more favourable.’
Professor Lucas added: ‘Achieving a logic gate with 99.9% precision is another important milestone on the road to developing a quantum computer. A quantum logic gate on its own does not constitute a quantum computer, but you can’t build the computer without them.
‘An analogy from conventional computing hardware would be that we have finally worked out how to build a transistor with good enough performance to make logic circuits, but the technology for wiring thousands of those transistors together to build an electronic computer is still in its infancy.’