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Monday briefing: university chiefs race ahead in pay stakes

Vice-chancellors earning much more than public-sector peers … Comedy legend Sir Ken Dodd dies aged 90 … London property prices slump


High pay fuels campus divide

A good Monday morning to you all. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories today.

The men and women running Britain’s universities are being paid far more than their peers in the public sector with similar leadership roles, according to research by the Guardian. The issue of high pay for vice-chancellors has come under intense scrutiny in recent months after Bath University chief Glynis Breakwell was revealed to earn £434,000, forcing her to promise to step down in the face of student protests. The Guardian survey shows vice-chancellors are earning substantially more than NHS and local council executives. For example, Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, is on £378,000, compared with the £185,000 pay of the chief executive of Birmingham city council – which is the largest local authority in Europe with a budget of £3bn. It comes as university lecturers continue to strike in a dispute over pensions. Becky Gardiner explains why she has walked out.

Doddy’s dead – The comedy legend Sir Ken Dodd has died at the age of 90. The Liverpudlian funny man died at his home in Liverpool on Sunday, two days after marrying his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, his publicist said in the early hours of this morning. Dodd, who was famed for his tickling stick, Diddymen and epic standup shows, was “one of the last of the music hall greats”, Robert Holmes said. Dodd’s career spanned seven decades and included television shows, a No 1 hit single (Tears, in 1965) and a record 42-week run at the London Palladium in 1965. Check out our picture gallery of his life here.

Ken Dodd pictured in 1970.

Poison alert – The government’s national security council will meet this morning to discuss the official response to the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. After people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or Mill pub in the town last weekend were urged to wash their clothes and belongings, concern is growing that public agencies should have warned the public of the ongoing danger before now. The guidance to diners reinforces suspicions that the nerve agent used on Skripal and his daughter was first administered inside the restaurant. Theresa May will be urged by her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, to take a harder line on Russia, which is suspected of carrying out the poison attack.

Property bust – The aftermath of the Brexit referendum is still being felt in the London property market, according to a survey which shows that prices have fallen sharply in areas that two years ago were showing big gains. The Your Move data shows that the average home in Wandsworth – which includes much of Clapham, Balham and Putney – fell by more than £100,000 in value over the past 12 months. There have also been big drops in other boroughs such as Southwark and Islington. The north-west of England has replaced the capital as the UK’s fastest-growing market. Top was Blackburn, which recorded average prices ahead by 16.4% over the past 12 months, while Warrington also saw double-digit growth.

It’s not such good news in other parts of the north where hundreds of property investors say they have lost money in a string of developments across the regionthat have either stalled indefinitely or collapsed outright. A Guardian Cities investigation reveals that problems with the schemes – known as “buyer-funded developments” dependent on small investors’ deposits rather than bank funding to get off the ground – have brought calls for police investigations.

Web lament – It’s 29 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web but he’s increasingly unhappy with what it’s become. In an open letter to mark the anniversary, he says that the power of large technology platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter has become too great and needs to be regulated. Conspiracy theories have spread and fake accounts have stoked social tensions, he says, because the large tech platforms “control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” he says.

A Musk read – No one could ever accuse Elon Musk of not thinking big. The PayPal and SpaceX entrepreneur told the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, that we need to colonise Mars so that some of us survive in the event of a nuclear war. Musk’s space projects include an attempt to put people on the red planet but he clearly sees it as more than just an experiment. “If there’s a third world war we want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of human civilisation somewhere else to bring it back and shorten the length of the dark ages,” he said on Sunday.

Lunchtime read: How to understand the future

Looking to the future: Michio Kaku

Musk also features in our lunchtime read today, which is a selection of books to help us understand the future. Compiled by the famed American physicist and futurist Michio Kaku, one of the books he chooses is Isaac Asimov’s saga of the rise and decline of a galactic empire, Foundation. Musk apparently read it as a child and it inspired him to get into space exploration. Kaku’s other choices feel more conventional, but no less fascinating, such as The Patient Will See You Now by Eric Topol, which explores the way science is transforming medicine, and The Singularity Is Now by Ray Kurzweil, which looks at how artificial intelligence might outstrip our own poor little brains.


Harry Kane is set for a scan on his ankle which was injured during Tottenham’s 4-1 victory over Bournemouth, and could yet rule him out of the World Cup. Joe Schmidt has set his sights on completing a grand slam by beating England next weekend after Ireland secured the Six Nations title. In Paris, Robert Kitson argues that England’s limp loss to France caps a year of decline for a coach whose methods are under renewed scrutiny. Paul Casey, meanwhile, has surged to victory at golf’s Valspar Championship in Florida on Sunday as Tiger Woodsfinished one stroke behind in a tie for second place.


Downbeat data on consumer spending could overshadow the optimistic message that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, plans to send out in his spring statement tomorrow. Visa said spending on cards fell again in February, making it nine negative months out of the past 10 months. Asian markets bounced higher today in the wake of positive jobs data from the US on Friday and the FTSE100 is set to benefit as well when it opens at 8am. The pound is buying $1.385 and €1.124.

The papers

It is the editor’s worst nightmare: the Times managed to kill off Sergei Skripal in its splash headline, according to an early version of the front page, despite the poisoned Russian spy still being alive. “May set to hit back at Russia over spy death,” the paper’s headline read, though it was later changed to “spy attack”.


A look at Tesla Chief Designer’s stunning custom Model 3

Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen and his team designed the Model 3 to have a wide appeal in the midsize sedan market, but the designer seems to favor a few more unconventional design accents for his own Model 3.

Some aspects of the Model 3 design, like the minimalist interior and the front fascia lip, have been more controversial, but the design has been mostly praised overall.

It’s a good thing that people find the vehicle beautiful since they are going to see a lot of them if Tesla reaches its production goals.

But with Tesla’s limited configuration options for the Model 3, those vehicles will lookalike and many early owners are already turning to some custom modifications to make their cars stand out.

Even Tesla’s Chief Designer made a few modifications to his car, which was spotted at Tesla’s Los Angeles Delivery Center yesterday (via honeyboobooooooooooo):

Electrek’s Take

The most obvious modification is the removal of all chrome features on the vehicle.

I am personally a big fan of that look and I think it’s especially great on the Model 3 with the door handles now completely melting into the design.

The chrome of the door handles was replaced by the same color as the car, but the chrome around the windows was instead made black or dark grey and it matches the new wheels, which appears to be the new 20″ version of Tesla’s Model 3 Sports Wheels – though they are not officially available in that color.

Maybe it’s going to be an option soon?

He also had the windows tinted with a darker tint, which matches very well with the rest of the previously mentioned modifications.

Another subtle change is the removal of the Tesla ‘T’ logo in the back, which was replaced by the word ‘Tesla’ with each letter spreadout – not unlike the look of the original Roadster.

Finally, a carbon fiber spoiler was added to the Model 3. I’ve never been a fan of the look of a spoiler on a four-door sedan. I have a very similar one on my Model S because it’s a Signature Performance version, but I could do without it.

But in this case here, I think it certainly looks better than on the Model S likely due to the shorter back.

What do you think? Does it give you some ideas for your own car? Let us know what you think in the comment section below and tell us if you’d want Tesla to offer some of those modifications as options.


The ghostly galaxy that’s devoid of dark matter

For the first time, astronomers have identified a dim and diffuse galaxy that seems to contain very little, if any, dark matter.
NGC1052-DF2 is a large, but very diffuse galaxy located some 65 million light-years away. This image of the galaxy, which is thought to contain a negligible amount of dark matter, was captured by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA/ESA/P. van Dokkum (Yale University)
Dark matter is one of the most important — yet least understood — building blocks of our universe. This gravitationally inferred, but optically elusive type of matter is thought to account for 85 percent of the universe’s mass and is believed to form the underlying foundations upon which all galaxies are built. But in a study published March 28 in the journal Nature, a team of astronomers uncovered the first galaxy ever found to be lacking any significant amount of dark matter.

“We thought that every galaxy had dark matter and that dark matter is how a galaxy begins,” said lead author Pieter van Dokkum, an astrophysicist at Yale University, in a press release. “This invisible, mysterious substance is the most dominant aspect of any galaxy. So finding a galaxy without it is unexpected. It challenges the standard ideas of how we think galaxies work, and it shows that dark matter is real: it has its own separate existence apart from other components of galaxies.”

The oddball galaxy in question, NGC1052-DF2 (or DF2 for short), is a small galaxy in a collection of galaxies dominated by the much larger elliptical NGC 1052. The relatively innocuous galaxy DF2 only stood out to the researchers when they noticed it appeared differently in images taken by the Dragonfly Telephoto Array and those taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). In the Dragonfly images, DF2 looked like a blob of dim and diffuse light, but in the SDSS images, it appeared as a group of point-like sources.

To investigate, the team observed DF2 using the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and performed follow-up spectroscopic observations with the 10-meter W.M. Keck Observatory. “I spent an hour just staring at the Hubble image,” said van Dokkum. “It’s so rare, particularly these days after so many years of Hubble, that you get an image of something and you say, ‘I’ve never seen that before.’ This thing is astonishing: a gigantic blob that you can look through. It’s so sparse that you see all of the galaxies behind it. It is literally a see-through galaxy.” Using the Hubble data, the researchers were able to determine that DF2, which they consider an ultra-diffuse galaxy due to its large size and transparent appearance, is located about 65 million light-years away. Although the galaxy is about as large as the Milky Way, they found it contains 200 times fewer stars.

Based on the spectroscopic data the team collected with Keck, they identified 10 globular clusters – large, spherical groups of typically old stars – on the outskirts of DF2. Surprisingly, they found that all of these globular clusters were rotating around DF2 three times more slowly than they would be if the galaxy contained a typical amount of dark matter in addition to its sparse amount of normal matter. The researchers then calculated the galaxy’s overall mass and found that, “if there is any dark matter at all, it’s very little,” said van Dokkum. “The stars in the galaxy can account for all the mass, and there doesn’t seem to be any room for dark matter.”

To determine how quickly the globular clusters were rotating around DF2, the researchers analyzed the absorption lines of spectra taken with the Keck Observatory. This allowed them to determine each cluster’s velocity, which they then used to calculate the overall mass of the galaxy.
Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA/W.M. Keck Observatory/Jen Miller/Joy Pollard
The finding that DF2 apparently has very little, if any, dark matter caught the researchers off guard because it is the first galaxy ever found to be lacking the pervasive material. “There is no theory that predicted these types of galaxies. The galaxy is a complete mystery, as everything about it is strange,” said van Dokkum. “How you actually go about forming one of these things is completely unknown.”

However, as is usually the case, the researchers have a few ideas about how the galaxy initially formed. One possible scenario they lay out in the paper is that DF2 is actually a tidal dwarf galaxy. This type of galaxy can form during galactic mergers, which often fling out baryonic material – ordinary matter that is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. However, DF2 appears to have fewer metals than would be expected for a tidal dwarf galaxy. Another option is that the galaxy formed when winds from a nearby quasar swept up large clouds of low-metallicity gas, but the researchers point out that the galaxy may be too diffuse for this to be a likely scenario. Finally, the researchers suggest DF2 may have formed when portions of gas flowing toward NGC 1052 broke away due to jet-induced shocks from the larger galaxy’s black hole.

No matter how DF2 formed, the team’s findings demonstrate that dark matter is indeed a physical building block that can be separated from baryonic matter, and, as a result, the findings also cast doubt on some alternative theories to dark matter. One such theory is known as modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND), which aims to eliminate the need for dark matter by proposing that the gravitational force acts differently on low-acceleration objects, such as those found on the outer fringes of galaxies.

“This result poses a very strong challenge to MOND,” explained Yotam Cohen, an astronomy graduate student at Yale and co-author of the study, on the news-sharing site Reddit. “In MOND, the extra gravitational forces observed on galactic scales are woven into the equations, meaning that wherever you see galaxies, you should see the effect of the modified gravity. However, in this galaxy, there is no need for the extra gravity to explain its kinematics. In other words, this suggests that galaxies and dark matter are separable components and, by extension, that dark matter is a material substance, which is the opinion of the majority of professional astronomers.”

But before astronomers can make any sweeping conclusions about the true nature of our universe, the study’s extraordinary findings must first be verified and replicated. At this point, the team is already busy analyzing more Hubble images of dim and diffuse galaxies similar to DF2. “We currently have a sample of about 20 other low-surface-brightness galaxies identified with Dragonfly and subsequently followed up with HST imaging,” Cohen told Astronomy via email. “Among these objects, there are a few that have similar brightness and structure to NGC1052-DF2, but none quite as spectacular and none with quite as many star cluster candidates.”

Though there have been several recent challenges to our current understanding of dark matter — such as the finding that satellite galaxies move together in an orderly fashioninstead of randomly, as dark-matter models predict — this is not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, it simply means that our current understanding of dark matter is not entirely correct. This should not be a complete surprise considering we have yet to detect direct evidence of the elusive material. Confusing results force scientists to look at a problem in different ways, which typically leads them to revise and update their theories so they better describe reality.

After all, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, the most exciting phrase to hear in science is not ‘Eureka,’ but rather, ‘hmm… that’s odd.’


Poor grades tied to class times that don’t match our biological clocks

IMAGE: Owls performed worst of all the groups due to chronic social jet lag.

Benjamin Smarr

It may be time to tailor students’ class schedules to their natural biological rhythms, according to a new study from UC Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University.

Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.

After sorting the students into “night owls,” “daytime finches” and “morning larks” — based on their activities on days they were not in class — researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.

Their findings, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, show that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules – say, night owls taking early morning courses – received lower grades due to “social jet lag,” a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands.

“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.

In addition to learning deficits, social jet lag has been tied to obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use.

On a positive note: “Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success,” said study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.

While students of all categories suffered from class-induced jet lag, the study found that night owls were especially vulnerable, many appearing so chronically jet-lagged that they were unable to perform optimally at any time of day.
But it’s not as simple as students just staying up too late, Smarr said

“Because owls are later and classes tend to be earlier, this mismatch hits owls the hardest, but we see larks and finches taking later classes and also suffering from the mismatch,” said Smarr. “Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn’t a one-time-fits-all solution for education.”

In what is thought to be the largest-ever survey of social jet lag using real-world data, Smarr and Schirmer analyzed the online activity of 14,894 Northeastern Illinois University students as they logged in and out of the campus’s learning management system over two years.

To separate the owls from the larks from the finches, and gain a more accurate alertness profile, the researchers tracked students’ activity levels on days that they did not attend a class.

Next, they looked at how larks, finches and owls had scheduled their classes during four semesters from 2014 to 2016 and found that about 40 percent were mostly biologically in sync with their class times. As a result, they performed better in class and enjoyed higher GPAs.

However, 50 percent of the students were taking classes before they were fully alert, and another 10 percent had already peaked by the time their classes started.

Previous studies have found that older people tend to be active earlier while young adults shift to a later sleep-wake cycle during puberty. Overall, men stay up later than women, and circadian rhythms shift with the seasons based on natural light.

Finding these patterns reflected in students’ login data spurred researchers to investigate whether digital records might also reflect the biological rhythms underlying people’s behavior.

The results suggest that “rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualize education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning,” Smarr said.

University of California – Berkeley