The College Research Associates are post-doctoral Research Fellows of the University who augment the Fellowship in their specialist research fields. Each College Research Associate is appointed for several years, and they provide a particularly relevant point of contact for the graduate members of the College who may be considering remaining in academia, able to offer insight into the career and role of a junior academic.
What happens to us, individually, when we connect with others, socially? My research looks at how people rebuild their lives after being convicted of criminal offences. I have especially focussed on the role of faith, faith communities, trust and interactions between identity, agency, social structures and criminal justice practices. I have studied people’s experiences of this process as they are released from prison and during the years immediately after release and when they are imprisoned in high security prisons often with many years still to serve and sometimes when release is unlikely or impossible. Building on this, my current research involves the implementation and evaluation of a programme where university students and prisoners learn together within a prison. It is informed by previous work on intergroup contact theory and desistance theory.
My research uses magnetoencephalography with children to explore the neural and cognitive mechanisms of attention and memory in childhood. ‘Working memory’ capacity variability in childhood is a strong longitudinal predictor of educational outcome; my research explores the extent to which differences in attentional control abilities across children might drive these longitudinal relationships between initial working memory capacity and subsequent academic progress. I am also interested in the extent to which we can augment these neural mechanisms in childhood with intensive cognitive training.
Machine Learning, Computational Neuroscience and Neurodegeneration
I combine techniques from machine learning and statistical physics to understand how neural networks learn to perform difficult computations. Currently, I am applying these techniques to study the impact of neurodegeneration on neural computation.
How do genomes vary, and how does this variation influence animal diversity? I am attempting to address these questions using the charismatic Heliconius butterflies. There are tens of Heliconius species distributed across South and Central America, most with tens of different subspecies. This species diversity is generated and maintained by variation in the genomes of these butterflies. It is now possible to assemble and compare whole genomes of multiple organisms and search for large scale variations in these genomes. I am using high throughput DNA sequencing to search for variations in recombination rate and for the presence of chromosomal inversions across multiple Heliconius genomes, in an attempt to explain the diversity of Heliconius species. In the process, I am developing several novel methods for the analysis of inversions and recombinations using next generation sequencing, based on previous work on RAD Sequencing in butterflies, moths, salmon, sturgeon and snails.
The universe is filled with exciting astronomical objects, of which I find black holes and neutron stars to be the most mysterious. These stellar corpses are the remnants of once massive stars that collapsed and exploded in a supernova at the end of their life. Neutron stars represent the densest, directly observable objects in the universe and are unique astrophysical laboratories to understand how matter behaves when it is compressed to ultra-high densities, subject to enormous pressures, vigorous radiation fields and super-strong magnetic fields. Black holes, on the other hand, are pure marvels that form the ultimate testbeds for Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, and are the key to understanding how individual Galaxies, and the universe as a whole, evolve. My research involves inferring the properties of black holes and neutron stars by studying how they swallow (‘accrete’) material from their surroundings. I conduct these studies using large Earth-based optical, infrared and radio telescopes, as well as X-ray and UV space missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope.
My work at Cambridge is devoted to the history of Hebrew Biblical scholarship in Jewish and Christian traditions, especially the study of textual transmission in the 19th century. I hold a five-year post-doctoral fellowship based at CRASSH as part of the ERC-funded research project, "The Bible and Antiquity in 19th Century Culture".
Protein folding and misfolding - lipid biophysics - neurodegenerative diseases.
My main research interests focus on understanding the early onset and proliferation of Parkinson’s disease.
In fact, alpha synuclein (a-syn) is a small presynaptic protein involved in neuronal and synaptic vesicle plasticity but its aggregation to form amyloid fibrils is the hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. My current research focuses on establishing the molecular mechanism by which the interaction between a-syn and vesicles trigger amyloid formation by the former. In addition, I am particularly interested in understanding how a change in bilayer properties would affect the behavior of the protein at the membrane interface. Such an understanding would allow us to shed light on the mechanism by which the balance between functional interactions of a-syn with lipid membranes and deleterious ones that can generate pathogenicity, can be affected in vivo.
Archaeology of Africa, Northern African Prehistory, rock art
Newton International Fellow
In North Africa, hundreds of rock art sites located in desert areas testify to the occupation of the so-called ‘Green Sahara’, when palaeo-environmental conditions were more favourable to human settlement and activities. Mostly dating from the Early and Middle Holocene periods (9 500 to 3 500 BCE), the Saharan rock art displays a large variety of scenes. Human bodies and social scenes are very frequent and show how prehistoric populations perceived and depicted themselves and the others. My research focuses on the expression of individual and collective identities through human depictions in the rock art of the Holocene Sahara.
Dr Nayanika Mathur
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow
My primary research project studies the use of new technologies, particularly biometric IDs, by the developmental Indian state. This project constitutes a scaling-up of my first book, Paper Tiger (Cambridge University Press, 2015) as well as my collaborative work on the remaking of public goods in late capitalism. The concerns of this work extend from fears of state surveillance to the corporate and software restructuring of welfare provisioning in contemporary India.
In addition, I am currently writing a book on human-big cat conflict in India, tentatively entitled Cats that Eat Humans. Combining ethnography with history, this book explores how humans have shared landscapes with predatory animals from the time of British colonialism right up till the present era of climate change.
Understanding the way that ‘new’ variants of bacteria and viruses emerge to cause diseases is vital in controlling infections and managing disease interventions in resource-challenged settings. This premise guides my research interests, which focuses on understanding the genetic events that shape the emergence and transmission of bacteria, especially those responsible for infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.
My main writing project is an academic book on the history of pregnancy testing in Britain. The first in-depth account for any period or country, it will show how the market for this now ubiquitous retail product was sustained less by medicalisation or the managerial state than by the entrepreneurial testers and diagnostic consumers who helped create and maintain demand. Beyond pregnancy testing, I have published on the history of population control and contraceptive technologies and have a strong research interest in the history of reproduction on film and television.
Justin Pearce is conducting research on the roots and the character of political legitimacy in contemporary southern Africa, using a comparative case study of Angola and Mozambique. His current research is supported by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies, part funded by the Newton Trust. Dr Pearce’s broader research interests include the politics and history of Lusophone Africa and of southern Africa, with a thematic interest in civil conflict, peace making, the continuities between wartime and peacetime politics, and the politics of memory and memorialisation. His approach to research puts a strong priority on gathering interviews in order to examine popular as well as elite discourses on power and identity. Justin Pearce worked as a journalist in southern Africa before commencing his DPhil at Oxford, which is on political mobilisation and political identity in the Angolan Civil War.
All cellular organism have to face several biological perturbations and environmental changes during their lifespan. These require an adaptation of the chemical environment of the cell, the metabolic network. Human cells for instance undergo a series of metabolic reconfigurations when the develop, age, or when cells transform into a tumor. We study how the dynamic adaptation of this cellular network is controlled, and work on the identifications of its molecular regulators.
Understanding natural climate variability is critical to predicting how Earth’s climate will continue to respond to rising levels of greenhouse gases. Ice cores capture highly detailed records of past climate in both the bubbles of ancient air and the chemical signals preserved within the ice. By studying these records we can learn about the mechanisms involved in driving and propagating past climatic change. I am particularly interested in the role Arctic sea ice may played in a series of abrupt climate changes during the Last Glacial Period.
Many of the outstanding questions in biology and medicine are difficult to address because there is no way to directly look at the complex molecular machines responsible for life. I work on developing new instruments and methods for imaging biological molecules, (DNA, RNA and proteins), at atomic resolution. This is done by improving the resolving power and image quality of the electron microscope to the point where we can image the atomic structure of molecules. This requires reengineering how specimens are made and imaged, to prevent them from moving before they are damaged by the high-energy electrons in the microscope. Using this new technology, we study the detailed mechanisms of bimolecular complexes to understand how they function.
Natural proteins display critical structural and bioactive properties that have evolved in nature for millions of years. However, depending on the specific protein, there may be useful functions, such as mechanical toughness, while other critical features may be more limiting, such as cell compatibility or a broader range of mechanical properties. Nature has evolved strategies to resolve this problem by generating multifunctional composite materials in vivo. Many natural proteins have been studied, with distinguishing mechanical, chemical, electrical, electromagnetic, and optical properties. Fiber-forming proteins, including amyloids and native silks, have attracted a special attention due to its unique physico-chemical characteristics.
My research interests include the cultural and intellectual histories of philology, colonialism and orientalism, and the cross-cultural transmission of ideas. My current project, Ordering the Orient: A cultural and economic history of the publication of Eastern texts in the West, 1850-1939, argues for a new interpretation of the production, transmission, and transformation of 'Eastern' ideas in the 'West' through an economic and cultural analysis of the publishing and marketing of seminal texts such as the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, the Bhagavadgita and the Tao Te Ching, which became part of an 'oriental canon' that continues to mould perceptions of the 'East'. Focussing on Britain, the United States and Germany, where publishers like Trübner in London, Ticknor in Boston, and Brockhaus in Leipzig fed and stimulated an appetite for 'Oriental' works, my project analyses local and transcultural contexts and networks of production, mapping an entangled history of ideas, texts and individuals travelling and corresponding across Europe, North America and Asia.
My field of research is Latin medieval philosophy of the 12th century. The core of my research attempts at combining two different interests: manuscript studies and textual criticism on the one hand; philosophy and history of philosophy on the other. While a British Academy PDF, I shall be analysing ten logical manuscripts from the time of Peter Abelard, taking into account both the physical characteristics of each manuscript, and the logical debates and arguments it transmits.
Animals from fruit flies to humans adjust their behaviour depending on personal experience and information gained by watching others. My research interests lie in explaining how and why these different sources of information are used in behavioural interactions within and between species, and how these in turn shape the ecological communities in which these interactions take place. I use a range of field-based avian study systems, including great tits in Finland, hihi in New Zealand, and reed warblers and cuckoos in Cambridge, and focus on the interactions that take place between predators and their prey, parasites and their hosts, and parents and their young.
My research focuses on the reprogramming of the protein translation machinery—consisting of the ribosome and its associated factors—to produce novel polymers with therapeutic and industrial potential in living cells.
My current research combines natural bio-catalysts with earth-abundant metal oxides to develop the basic science behind artificial photosynthesis. Specifically, I am optimising the electronic ‘wiring’ between the water oxidation enzyme, photosystem II, and nano-structured metal oxide electrodes to establish new benchmarks in water oxidation turn-over frequencies. This is important for inspiring more efficient and cost effective photocatalytic water-splitting systems, which would help to drive the realisation of hydrogen as a sustainable green fuel of the future.