Cambridge researchers create VR software that allows scientists to ‘walk’ inside cells

A collaborative project between 3D image analysis software company Lume VR Ltd. and scientists at the University of Cambridge showed off a new virtual reality tool today that gives scientists a new view of the inner workings of human cells.

The researchers hope the Google Street View-style tool will provide an up close and personal way to understand fundamental problems in biology to help new treatments for disease. The details are published in the scientific journal “Nature Methods.”

By using VR, scientists can “walk” through the “byways” and “highways” within the cells themselves and see proteins fold and unfold. They also can potentially see where things go wrong when they go wrong and even rewind biological processes by looking through recorded and visualized datasets.

The software, vLUME, uses super-high-resolution microscopy data that is collected, collated and digested. After that, the data needs to be rendered in a manner understandable by humans, and that’s where the immersive nature of virtual reality comes in.

By donning a VR headset, researchers can then dive into the internal structures of a human cell and look at the structure of a cell wall, a Golgi apparatus (the part of a cell involved in intracellular transport), the warps and waves of a mitochondria (the provisioner of energy) or the folds of an individual protein that could be malformed. They can even pull back to view the roadmap of an entire cell.

“Biology occurs in 3D, but up until now it has been difficult to interact with the data on a 2D computer screen in an intuitive and immersive way,” said Dr. Steven F. Lee from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, who led the research. “It wasn’t until we started seeing our data in virtual reality that everything clicked into place.”

The team from Lume specialized originally in

Campaigns sidestep Cambridge Analytica crackdown with new methods

“Your early vote has not been recorded,” one text message said, with a link for more information.

Other messages tell voters they are not registered, or offer unverified information about a political opponent.

Fraudulent messages like these are drawing attention as political campaigns ramp up data collection and voter targeting using their own technology to circumvent restrictions imposed by social media platforms following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook barred apps which scraped data on users and their contacts after revelations about the now-defunct British consulting group. But in response, President Donald Trump’s campaign and some activist groups are using their own methods.

“What we are seeing is almost more potent than in 2016,” said Samuel Woolley, a University of Texas professor who leads propaganda research at the school’s Center for Media Engagement

Woolley’s team, which examined messages such as the above-referenced ones, found that the Trump mobile app, and to a lesser extent those of Democrat Joe Biden and other political activist groups, scoop up data to create profiles to craft personalized, targeted messages by SMS, email or social media.

Some apps collect data not only on the user, but his or her contacts, and track location and other activities such as shopping or church attendance.

Campaigns can combine that with third-party information from data brokers or public records to finetune messages to specific individuals or groups.

“In 2016 there was more reliance on Facebook, and other social platforms, but now the campaigns have taken the collection of data into their own hands,” said Woolley, who called the Trump app a “surveillance tool.”

– No consent needed –

Dozens of unsolicited texts, many with pro-Trump messages, surprised Thomas, a 32-year-old software program manager in Boston. 

One read: “Looting. Rioting. Burning Cities. These are the realities of a Biden America.”

“My

The Real Problem Wasn’t Cambridge Analytica, But The Data Brokers That Outlived It

Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced and now closed political-consulting firm that got caught staging a heist of tens of millions of Facebook users’ data, now looks to be suffering a final indignity: being seen as not that special of a villain after all. 

Two days after the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office released a lengthy report that found Cambridge Analytica’s work did not influence the Brexit referendum, one of that British firm’s foremost American critics argued that Cambridge’s death was meaningless because the underlying privacy problem remains very much alive. 

David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at The New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York, made this case by walking an online audience through his own Cambridge Analytica file—for which he pursued a legal case in the U.K. with only partial success before investigators for Britain’s Channel 4 News found his details in a massive stash of leaked Cambridge data. 

As viewers of Carroll’s talk Wednesday at the TEDxMidAtlantic online conference saw, most of this was other people’s work—bits harvested by third-party data brokers and then bought by Cambridge to feed into personality scores for such metrics as neuroticism and conscientiousness. 

Carroll, semi-famous for his role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack, emphasized three key points about the work Cambridge did for such Republican customers as President Trump’s 2016 campaign. 

First, his file wasn’t that comprehensive because of the obvious unlikelihood of a Brooklyn academic voting for Trump—“I was not a targeted voter”—and his own efforts to be “a very privacy-defensive consumer.” Nor was the material collected by such data brokers as Data Trust and Infogroup (now Data Axle) all that accurate. 

Cambridge Analytica ‘Did Not Influence Brexit Referendum’

Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook data didn’t affect the UK’s Brexit referendum as the data related to US rather than British voters, an investigation has concluded.

According to a report from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), parent company SCL and Global Science Research – which obtained the data of Facebook users and their friends through a quiz app – appear to have considered targeting UK voters, but abandoned the idea.

“From my review of the materials recovered by the investigation I have found no further evidence to change my earlier view that SCL/CA were not involved in the EU referendum campaign in the UK – beyond some initial enquiries made by SCL/CA in relation to UKIP data in the early stages of the referendum process,” writes information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

“This strand of work does not appear to have then been taken forward by SCL/CA.”

The report concludes a three-year investigation that saw Cambridge Analytica’s offices raided in 2018. It had been alleged that, under Russian influence, the companies had attempted to steer the UK into voting to leave the European Union.

The ICO has confirmed that it found evidence of poor data handling practices, with data held in several locations and shared using personal Gmail accounts.

However, it says that Cambridge Analytica did make some efforts to delete the data when asked by Facebook to do so in 2016. Ironically, the company’s claim that it held 5,000 data points on each of 230 million adult Americans turned out to be a big exaggeration.

But as for evidence of Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum, the ICO said it was not qualified to comment, adding that it had already handed over what evidence it had to the National Crime Agency.

“What is clear is that the use of digital