The paradoxes of evolution: inevitable humans in a lonely universe

Lecturer:
Prof Simon Conway Morris FRS
Date:
21 Jan 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Professor Conway Morris is Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences. His influential work on the Burgess Shale collections, which was the topic of Stephen J. Gould’s best-selling book Wonderful Life and his own title The Crucible of Creation, has brought him international fame and led to his appearance in several scientific TV programmes. He presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1996.

Abstract: Scientific orthodoxy has various platforms of security. One is that organic evolution is effectively directionless and a product of locally contingent events: on no other planet will there be anything like a human. The second platform is that life is a universal: certainly no humans, but planet after planet pulsating with alien and weird biospheres. I will argue the exact opposite: humans (as a biological property) are an evolutionary inevitability, but there is only one home.

Energy and Motors in Biology

Lecturer:
Prof Sir John Walker Kt FRS
Date:
28 Jan 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Sir John Walker won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the enzymes involved in ATP synthesis. He is Director of the MRC Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, where he is leading a team of scientists addressing the molecular mechanisms through which energy is generated from food, and the relationship between these processes and disease.

Abstract: Most biological energy comes from the sun and is channelled into ATP, the energy currency of biology, by the processes of photosynthesis and oxidative phosphorylation. The terminal step, the phosphorylation of ADP, is carried by the ATP synthase, a complex molecular machine with a rotary mechanism. How it works will be described. The ATP generated in this way provides the fuel for other molecular machines in biology. Some of the most important ones will be discussed and compared with macroscopic machines in everyday life. There are remarkable similarities and notable differences. Studies of the biological machines are helping to inform design of tiny man-made molecular machines.

Quarks, electrons and neutrinos

Lecturer:
Prof Peter Landshoff
Date:
04 Feb 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Professor Peter Landshoff is a member of the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of the University of Cambridge, and deputy head of department. He is also Clayton Fellow of Christ’s College.

Abstract: I will describe what we know about the sub-microscopic structure of the matter that is all around us. We are all made mainly of quarks, and their properties are very strange.

On the Irrelevance of Universities

Lecturer:
Brian J Ford
Date:
12 Feb 2003 (Wed)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Brian J Ford is a Fellow and Member of the Court of Governors of Cardiff University. The author of 30 books and many hundreds of articles and research papers, he is also well known as a broadcaster. He lectures internationally, and is resident in Cambridgeshire.

In a recent lecture in Chicago, Brian J Ford launched a view that has radically altered the way we can look at the development of science. The ideas were further developed in a lecture to the Institute for Cultural Research in London, which was widely reported in the popular and scientific press and by the BBC. In tonight’s talk we meet the often-overlooked innovators whose work underpins the modern world. The conclusion is that scientific innovation is more often the province of the outsider, the rebel or the enthusiast than of the academic scientist. For major innovations, Ford concludes, universities and research institutes are fundamentally irrelevant.

Why medicine should be based on Darwinism, and why it isn’t yet

Lecturer:
Prof Randalph Nesse
Date:
25 Feb 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Randalph Nesse, M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He is also Senior Research Scientist, Research Center for Group Dynamics, ISR, and Director, ISR Evolution and Human Adaptation Program. His newest book is Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment. See darwinianmedicine.org for more information.

The Phenomenal Brain

Lecturer:
Prof Richard Gregory CBE FRS FRSE
Date:
04 Mar 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Professor Gregory is a widely known expert on the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions, fellow of Downing College and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol. He has published numerous books on mind and vision, including the highly acclaimed Eye and brain (now in its 5th edition), Mirrors in Mind, and Illusion : The Phenomenal Brain.

Abstract: We are so familiar with seeing, that it takes a leap of imagination to realise that there are problems to be solved. But consider it. We are given tiny distorted upside-down images in the eyes, and we see separate solid objects in surrounding space. From the patterns of stimulation on the retinas we perceive the world of objects, and this is nothing short of a miracle. The eye is often described as like a camera, but it is the quite uncamera-like features of perception which are most interesting. How is information from the eyes coded into neural terms, into the language of the brain, and reconstituted into experience of surrounding objects?

Famous Myths in the History of Science

Lecturer:
Prof John Hedley Brooke
Date:
29 Apr 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Professor John Hedley Brooke is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science & Religion and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at the University of Oxford, where he is also a Fellow of Harris Manchester College. A former Editor of the British Journal for the History of Science, he has been President of the British Society for the History of Science and of the Historical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He is currently Director of the European Science Foundation’s Network on ‘Science and Human Values’. His main books are Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives; Thinking About Matter: Studies in the History of Chemical Philosophy; and (with Geoffrey Cantor) Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science & Religion.

Has the Leopard Changed Its Spots? Is a New Biology Emerging?

Lecturer:
Prof Brian Goodwin
Date:
29 Apr 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theater

Biology has been mermerised by genes throughout the 20th Century, culminating in the genome projects that promised to reveal all the secrets of organisms and their evolution. However, despite the insights gained from this approach, the developmental process whereby organisms make themselves as coherent, functional, adaptive wholes is still not understood. The realisation that genetic information is not the secret of life is leading us to recognise deeper, more subtle organising principles that underlie the molecular complexity of living processes and result in the coherent emergent wholes that we call organisms. This involves a basic rethinking of the way biological components interact and self-organise into networks that generate meaningful form, leading us toward a new biology.

Finding things out: 60 years of Schrödinger’s view of life

Lecturer:
Dr Tim Hunt FRS
Date:
28 Oct 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Dr Tim Hunt FRS is Head of Cell Cycle Control Laboratory at Cancer Research UK. Educated at University of Cambridge he also worked here in the Department of Biochemistry. In 2001 he won the Nobel Prize for discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle.

According to Dirac, getting the equations was easy compared to working out what they meant. And Born said that what Schrödinger did was really purely mathematical, and that his physics was dreadful. But you can think of Schrödinger as the first real molecular biologist, and even now his little book “What is Life?” says some things that are worth remembering. No wonder Jim Watson and others of his generation were inspired.

To find out more, see: science.cancerresearchuk.org/research/loc/london/lifch/huntt/ www.nobel.se/medicine/laureates/2001/. This event is co-hosted with Trinity College Science Society

Computer Algebra – exercises in excess

Lecturer:
Dr. Arthur Norman
Date:
11 Nov 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Abstract:One of the very earliest applications of computers involved writing a program that could differentiate, and making computers perform algebra has continued to be an entertaining and challenging task. There are now various well established but perhaps expensive commercial offerings (eg Maple and Mathematica) and various cheaper or even freely available offerings. Those working in the field over the last about forty years seem to have had a fixation on excess. Their programs have been excessive in how much memory they use, how slow they are, how many really entertainig bugs have been in them, how much internal complication there is and even it sometimes seems how much money they think their work has been worth. Given that over that period computers were constantly getting (much) bigger and faster to be able to remain close to the limits of what is feasible is a significant achievement: my talk will indicate some of the approaches that were taken and wonder out loud how it might be possible to remain inefficient enough to keep tomorrow’s computers overloaded.

Dr. Arthur Norman has been in Cambridge for a long time now, and has taught a wide range of courses at the Computer Laboratory (eg at least five different programming languages, and courses on complexity, mathematics, compilers, machine code, computer algebra, algorithms, regular languages, databases, Unix tools and other oddments). He has been interested in functional programming and computer algebra since he was an undergraduate, and more recently has combined looking at them with worrying about parallel programming. It is known from some of his lectures that he has enough different hats to wear a different one to each session in a 16-lecture course, and some say that his range of home-made ice-creams and artisanal sourdough breads are also noteworthy. He will happily converse with anybody about either the technical issues of a computer algebra system or about some of the highly rated restaurants across Europe that represent his idea of a good holiday plan.

The Future of Human Nature

Lecturer:
Dr Nick Bostrom
Date:
18 Nov 2003 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Dr Nick Bostrom is a research fellow in the Department of Philosophy Oxford University. He founded the World Transhumanist Association and is also the Chair of the organization. Amongst many publications he is author of the book “Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy”.

Technology will increasingly enable us not just to transform our external environment but also ourselves. In this century, we are likely to develop technologies that will make it possible for us to become “post-humans”, beings who may have radically longer healthy lifespan, greater cognitive and physical capacities, and more control over their own moods and desires than any current human being. Bioconservative writers argue that we should relinquish technologies that may lead to such a post-human transition. Transhumanists, on the other hand, argue that we should embrace them. In this talk I will sketch the layout of the territory, highlight key opportunities and risks, and explain why I side with the transhumanists.

For more information, see: www.nickbostrom.com

Departmental Tour – Physiology

Date:
21 Nov 2003 (Fri)
Time:
15:00

Dr Christof Schwiening is offering an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Department of Physiology. All places booked.

The Stradivarius Secret – fact or fiction?

Lecturer:
Prof Colin Gough
Date:
27 Nov 2003 (Thu)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Prof Gough will describe the science underpinning the production of sound by a violin and some of the ways in which the vibrations of a violin can be “visualised”. He will then address the age-old question of what it might be that differentiates a fine old violin, such as a Stradivari or Guanari violin, from many a modern copy. Emphasise will be drawn on the important role that vibrato (the periodic variation of the frequency and amplitude) has in defining the sound of a violin rather than another instrument – and hence, by inference, its quality also. The talk will be illustrated with many musical illustations on the violin and recorded and processed sound signals using easily accessible computer software.

Prof Gough is the Professor of Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Birmingham. He is also a very talented violin player, having been leader of the National Youth Orchestra (NYO), of the Haywood String Quartet and the Barber Opera Orchestra. He has published numerous papers on musical acoustics. His paper, “Science and the Stradivarius” won him the 2001 Award from the Acoustical Society of America. He has also just returned from a lecture tour of America on this topic.

Building a Segment: Planar Polarity and Pattern

Lecturer:
Prof Peter Lawrence FRS
Date:
03 Dec 2003 (Wed)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Old Combination Room, Trinity College

This talk had to unfortunately be cancelled …

Professor Lawrence heads the Division of Cell Biology at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge. His interests lie in the formation of patterns in development, trying to dissect the way genes act to achieve pattern through cell interaction. Drosophila is the experimental system of choice and a favourite technique has been genetic mosaics. These have been made in different ways, by nuclear transplantation, by somatic recombination induced by X rays, and by recombination induced by yeast flipase. Problems of particular interest have been cell lineage, developmental compartments, homeotic genes, planar cell polarity, cell affinities and growth.

For the last six years or so in a collaboration particularly with Gary Struhl at the HHMI, Columbia University, NY, Professor Lawrence has been investigating the development of the adult abdomen of Drosophila. The abdomen has some special advantages for the experimentalist and our aim is to understand the design and construction of the epidermal patterns, particularly polarity and affinity which remain largely mysterious.

For more information, see: www.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/PAL/NewFiles/homeFrames.html

This event is co-hosted with Trinity College Science Society

See this page for directions to Old Combination Room

Has the Leopard Changed Its Spots? Is a New Biology Emerging?

Lecturer:
Prof Brian Goodwin
Date:
01 Jan 2004 (Thu)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theater

Biology has been mermerised by genes throughout the 20th Century, culminating in the genome projects that promised to reveal all the secrets of organisms and their evolution. However, despite the insights gained from this approach, the developmental process whereby organisms make themselves as coherent, functional, adaptive wholes is still not understood. The realisation that genetic information is not the secret of life is leading us to recognise deeper, more subtle organising principles that underlie the molecular complexity of living processes and result in the coherent emergent wholes that we call organisms. This involves a basic rethinking of the way biological components interact and self-organise into networks that generate meaningful form, leading us toward a new biology.

The Weird World of Quantum Mechanics

Lecturer:
Professor Mike Payne
Date:
27 Jan 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Quantum mechanics is the most successful theory of twentieth century physics. It successfully predicts the properties of things as small as fundamental particles to those as large as superconducting magnets. There is increasing evidence that the whole of chemistry, materials science, earth science and even biology can be quantitatively predicted by quantum mechanics. Remarkably, given its successes, the rules of quantum mechanics are self-contradictory.

In this talk I shall discuss the difficulties in the formulation of quantum mechanics, which are primarily associated with the measurement process. I shall also describe the phenomenon of quantum mechanical entanglement which lies at the heart of the Einstein-Podolski-Rosen (EPR) paradox. The early pioneers of quantum mechanics believed that the weird features of quantum mechanics associated with entanglement and measurement were anomalies that would disappear once a better theory was formulated. This has not happened and, instead, all experimental test performed to date reveal these weird features. In the last 20 years, attitudes to quantum mechanics have changed and now, rather than hoping they will disappear, these weird features are being exploited in a range of technologies such as quantum cryptography, quantum teleportation and quantum computing. I shall briefly review some of these in this talk.

Flavour – how we make sense of food.

Lecturer:
Professor Anthony Blake
Date:
03 Feb 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Developments in several very diverse fields within the last three years have led to a new understanding of what flavour is, how we become conscious of it and how we develop the flavour preferences we have. This paper will introduce how the sensory qualities of food which are received by our brain create the conscious perception we have of the food in our mouth.

Flavour is in fact a construct of the brain determined not only by the image, taste, odour and texture of the food but also by our previous eating experiences of that food and the emotional and situational aspects of them. As babies we indirectly start to experience the flavours of the food eaten by our mothers long before we are born and this has a strong influence on the food preferences we will have after birth. The decision whether we are fed at the breast or via the bottle will also be shown to influence food preferences in some surprising ways. Early eating experiences lead to deeply held notions of whether foods are delicious or disgusting.

Many animals show neophobia, an unwillingness to eat new foods, and human beings also show aspects of this, but more difficult to understand is the fact that they seek to modify their diets at both a personal and collective level. The craving for new foods may well be an uniquely human characteristic.

Cell Injury and Cancer

Lecturer:
Professor Andrew Wyllie FRS
Date:
10 Feb 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Professor Andrew Wyllie is Head of the Department of Pathology at Cambridge. He was part of the team which first identified the process of programmed cell death and coined the term ‘apoptosis’ to describe the process of natural cell suicide which regulates the proliferation of cells in living tissues and helps remove cells which have been injured beyond repair.

His most recent research has included studies into the molecular genetics of cancer as well as the mechanisms involved in the process of programmed cell death and the importance of apoptosis in human disease.

GM Debate: A Forum for Discussion and Understanding

Lecturer:
Prof V Moses, Ms Azeez
Date:
11 Feb 2004 (Wed)
Time:
08:00
Venue:
Physiology Lecture Theatre, Downing Site

The debate will take the form of:

  1. Brief presentation by both speakers
  2. Questions from the floor
  3. Summary by speakers

This event will provide a great opportunity for you to ask questions and challenge the experts in this field. Prof Moses is the Professor of Biotechnology at King’s College, London, and also the Chairman of the CropGen panel. He has been described as ‘the biotech industry’s UK champion’ and has taken part in numerous debates arguing this issue. Ms Azeez is the policy manager of the Soil Association, an organisation that campaigns for wide-spread use of organic food and farming.

Life in a weird world : ciid beetles and their bracket fungus hosts.

Lecturer:
Dr Glenda Orledge
Date:
17 Feb 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

The cosmopolitan Ciidae are obligate fungivores, and major inhabitants of the fruiting bodies of wood-rotting basidiomycete fungi. They are potentially valuable as model systems for the exploration of insect-fungus interactions and aspects of individual, population and community level ecology. As saproxylic insects, they are of conservation interest. In this lecture, I will introduce these beetles and their fungus hosts before describing patterns generated by the different host ‘preferences’ of ciid species, and drawing comparisons between ciid host breadths. I will conclude with a look at the continuing invasive spread of Cis bilamellatus.

Dr Orledge is based at the University of Bath, where she works on various aspects of ciid systematics and ecology. She is currently preparing a handbook on the British Ciidae, and a distribution atlas for the Ciidae of Britain and Ireland and indulges her interest in ants through her role as co-ordinator of national ant records, and through her work on the rare Black Bog Ant.’

Minimising losses of nitrogen from intensive agricultural systems

Lecturer:
Professor Keith Goulding
Date:
24 Feb 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

In many parts of the world, intensive agricultural production has contributed with industry and vehicle use to the global doubling of ‘reactive’ nitrogen (N) in the environment. This has resulted in eutrophication, ecosystem change and health concerns and, not surprisingly, pressure on farmers to reduce losses. A large amount of research has identified practices that cause large losses of N, including the particular problems of livestock farming caused by the poor efficiency (less than 20%) of use of N in feed by animals. This lecture will discuss the problems of maintaining productivity while reducing N losses, review the impacts of recommended practices on losses, compare conventional with low input (integrated) and organic systems, and discusses management options.

Professor Goulding is head of the Agriculture & Environment Division at Rothamsted Research. Website

Mutating DNA: Protector as well as Killer

Lecturer:
Prof Michael Neuberger FRS
Date:
25 Feb 2004 (Wed)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College

Professor Neuberger, a Fellow of College, is the Head of the Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry Division of the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He is currently interested in the mechanisms exploited by the immune system that ensure the production of high-affinity antibodies following encounter with antigen.

For more information, see: www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/PNAC/Neuberger_M/

This event is co-hosted with Trinity College Science Society

See this page for directions to Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College

Quasars and Radio Galaxies – the most powerful sources of radio waves in the Universe

Lecturer:
Dr Julia Riley
Date:
27 Apr 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

The Search for a Complete History of the Cosmos

Lecturer:
Professor Neil Turok
Date:
12 Oct 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

The universe seems to have begun in a hot big bang, some 14 billion years ago. Many details of this story have recently been confirmed, with extraordinary precision. But major puzzles remain: How did the universe begin, and where is it going? The lecture will review the parts of the story we are reasonably sure of, and then discuss two rival accounts which attempt to fill in the rest.

The elusive AIDS vaccine

Lecturer:
Professor Andrew McMichael FRS
Date:
19 Oct 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

21 years after the discovery of HIV there is still no vaccine. Why is this so difficult? At the heart of the problem is the ability of the virus to persist, to damage key cells in the immune system and to vary.

Professor McMichael is the Director of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford where he is currently researching into the nature of the immune response to HIV and into the development of an HIV vaccine which has now entered clinical trials in Oxford.

Hot News from the Big Bang

Lecturer:
Professor Malcolm Longair CBE FRSE
Date:
25 Oct 2004 (Mon)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College

Professor Longair is the Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy and head of Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Currently he is also the Institute of Physics Fellow in the Public Understanding of Physics. Professor Longair has held many highly respected positions within the field of astronomy. He was appointed the ninth Astronomer Royal of Scotland in 1980, as well as the Regius Professor of Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, and the director of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. He has served on and chaired many international committees, boards and panels, working with both NASA and the European Space Agency.

He has received much recognition for his work over the years, including a CBE in the millennium honours list for his services to astronomy and cosmology. His research interests include high-energy astrophysics and astrophysical cosmology. He also has a strong interest in the teaching of physics and in the history of physics, astrophysics and cosmology.

www.mrao.cam.ac.uk/people/mlongair.html

Discovering science and technology in Chocolate

Lecturer:
Professor Malcolm Mackley
Date:
02 Nov 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Chocolate and Cambridge seem an unlikely mix; however this talk will hopefully show that the application of scientific thinking on a material as curious and romantic as chocolate can provide insight into both new scientific ideas, and technology.

If processed in a certain way we discovered that chocolate can exhibit very unusual properties where for example, threads of “flexible chocolate” can be tied into knots. The talk will give the background to the discovery of flexible chocolate and will also describe the scientific insight that has been obtained from this unusual effect. The effect will be demonstrated using a simple apparatus and then we will explore the novel physical mechanism within the chocolate that causes the flexibility.

“The Science of Avalanches”

Lecturer:
Dr. Jim McElwaine
Date:
16 Nov 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

More than a million avalanches happen throughout the world every year. Most fall harmlessly, but the largest can destroy whole towns and kill thousands. In Western Europe such large disasters are rare but even so in any given year dozens of skiers, snowboarders and climbers may be killed, and in a bad year it can be hundreds.

This accessible non-technical talk describes one mathematician’s efforts to understand snow avalanches. The work ranges from investigating avalanche disasters in the Japanese mountains to dropping half a million ping-pong balls down a ski jump. There will be videos of avalanches from around the world and advice on how to keep safe on ski trips.

Physics and War

Lecturer:
Dr. Sanjoy Mahajan
Date:
18 Nov 2004 (Thu)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology lecture theatre

Galileo developed his theories of motion as he analyzed the flight of cannonballs; American snipers invading Iraq aim their bullets with lasers. Since almost its inception, physics has helped make war possible. And war has made physics possible. From elementary particles to fluid dynamics to astrophysics and oceanography, almost every field of physics is used for and funded by war. Is the connection inherent in physics? Could physics instead make the world happy and peaceful?

Sanjoy Mahajan was born in England and did his schooling in New Jersey, hence his accent. He returned to Old Europe to read mathematics at Oxford and then did his PhD in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology. Since then he has been at Corpus Christi College and the Cavendish Laboratory where he is interested in improving physics teaching.

Imaging Methods in Tumor Therapy

Lecturer:
Prof Kevin Brindle
Date:
20 Nov 2004 (Sat)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Protein Misfolding and its Links with Human Disease

Lecturer:
Professor Chris Dobson FRS
Date:
23 Nov 2004 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Protein folding is perhaps the most fundamental process associated with the generation of functional structures in biology. There has been considerable progress in the last few years in understanding the underlying principles that govern this highly complex process. Recently, much research has also focused on the realisation that proteins can misfold in vivo and that this phenomenon is linked with a wide range of highly debilitating diseases that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the modern world.

We have been investigating in particular the nature of the amyloidogenic conditions, that include Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and the spongiform encephalopathies, e.g. BSE and CJD, in which protein misfolding leads to the aggregation of proteins, often into thread-like amyloid structures.

Our studies have led us to put forward new ideas concerning the fundamental origins of the various diseases associated with their formation and the various strategies that can be used for their prevention and treatment. We have also speculated more generally that the need to avoid aggregation could be a significant driving force in the evolution of protein sequences and structures.

Did Adam meet Eve? The view from the genes

Lecturer:
Professor Steve Jones
Date:
29 Nov 2004 (Mon)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Chemistry Lecture Theatre 1, Lensfield Road

Join Professor Steve Jones as he tells of the fundamental differences between male and female, of the significance of the Y chromosome, of trends in lineage and inherited characteristics, before answering whether he thinks Adam really could have met Eve. To what extent may we trace back our familial origins? Do Adam and Eve really head our family tree?

Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London, studying genetic variation in humans, snails and Drosophila. He is best known for his award-winning popular science books, including “Y: The Descent of Men” and “Almost Like a Whale”, and other work he has done with the media making science accessible to a wider audience; he gave, for example, the 1991 Reith Lectures entitled “The Language of the Genes”.

So come along this Monday to hear more about genetics and men, and bring your friends! This talk should be easily accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike.

Warts and all

Lecturer:
Professor Margaret Stanley OBE
Date:
25 Jan 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

The human papillomavirus is the cause of viral warts and is also closely associated with the development of certain human cancers, particularly cervical cancer (which affects almost half a million women each year worldwide). The ways in which cells may control the life cycle of the virus and conversely how the virus may exert effects on the growth and differentiation of the host cell are still tantalising mysteries. The contribution of the immune response to papillomavirus infection can greatly affect the degree and duration of disease. Understanding the ways in which the immune system develops a response to the human papillomavirus is important if effective vaccines against viral-associated disease are to be produced.

Professor Margaret Stanley is the head of a research group (The Stanley Laboratory) within the Cellular Molecular Pathology division of the Department of Pathology in Cambridge. The Stanley Laboratory focuses on the prevention and treatment of human papilloma virus which causes cervical cancer.

Life that sparkles, from the deep ocean to the hospital bed – With demonstrations!

Lecturer:
Professor Anthony Campbell
Date:
01 Feb 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Life that sparkles – bioluminescence – is a remarkable and inspiring natural phenomenon. It is the emission of light from living organisms and occurs in over 700 genera from 17 phyla. It is the communication system in the biggest ecosystem on this planet. In this lecture-demonstration I will show where you can find the amazing variety of life that flash and glow, how and why they make their light, and how Nature has evolved her own rainbow. Then, quite surprisingly, I will show how curiosity about bioluminescence has had a huge impact on biological and medical research, and how we in Cardiff used a chemical model for jelly fish bioluminescence to transform an area of clinical diagnosis, now used in over 100 million tests per year world wide. The DNA from luminous animals has given us a way of lighting up the chemistry of living cells, and tells us what makes us sparkle. I will also show how bioluminescence was great delight, but a puzzle, for Charles Darwin, and how we are using it to solve the illness he suffered from for over 40 years, and his real problem – is life analogue or digital? Living light also gives us vision for communicating science, taking natural history into natural science, and inspiring young people with the ‘wow’ factor we use in our Darwin project in Wales – curiosity inspires, discovery reveals.

Anthony Campbell is a professor of Medical Biochemistry at Cardiff University. His current research focusses on the biochemistry of deep-sea bioluminescence and its applications to the molecular basis of rheumatoid arthritis. He has pioneered an experimental strategy to the study of the chemistry of living cells based on the genetic engineering of bioluminescent proteins. He has also founded The Darwin Centre for Biology and Medicine (Canolfan Bywydeg a Meddygaeth Darwin) in Wales as a vehicle for the Public Understanding of Science and Health.

The Counter-Intuitive Behaviour of Rolling Bodies

Lecturer:
Professor Keith Moffatt FRS
Date:
08 Feb 2005 (Tue)
Time:
08:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Professor Moffatt is well known for solving the spinning coin problem amongst other things. His talk will explain this problem and its solution as well as other complex systems. Simple everyday dynamics that you never believed was worth a second thought will be investigated.

Three ‘toy’ problems will be demonstrated, and the essential features
of their dynamics described:

  1. The problem of a disc rolling on its edge at a small angle to the table on which it rolls (Euler’s Disc); this system exhibits a singularity at finite time driven by weak dissipative effects.
  2. The problem of a spheroid spinning rapidly on a table (the ‘spinning egg’ problem). Here, the spheroid rises to a position of maximum potential energy, a process again driven by weak dissipation associated with slip and friction at the point of contact with the table.
  3. The problem of the ‘rattleback’, which, due to a weak chiral asymmetry, exhibits a preference for rotation in one sense rather than the other.

These problems all exhibit surprising behaviour which are suggestive of counterparts of fundamental significance in more complex systems. These counterparts will be briefly discussed.

What’s the matter: testing reality by weighing galaxies

Lecturer:
Professor Gerry Gilmore
Date:
15 Feb 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

The matter of which we, planets stars and galaxies are made is an almost insignificant perturbation on reality. Structure in the Universe is dominated by about five times as much of a different form of matter, often called Cold Dark Matter, which is detectable, so far, only through its gravitaional effects on luminous matter on galactic scales.

Significant advances in determining the nature of this reality are being made using the newest giant telescopes to study nearby dwarf galaxies.

Field of the Future

Lecturer:
Giles Watts
Date:
22 Feb 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Further details to follow.

Is autism an extreme of the male brain?

Lecturer:
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
Date:
28 Feb 2005 (Mon)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

Autism affects males far more often than females. This is especially true for the related condition of Asperger Syndrome (AS) where the sex ratio may be at least 10:1 (male:female), if not a lot higher. Why might this be? One possibility is that autism is an extreme form of the male brain. This theory was first proposed by Hans Asperger, but our recent work puts it to the test. First we define what we mean by the male and female brain. This is discussed in terms of two processes, empathizing and systemizing. We look at evidence for sex differences in these processes. Then we look at whether autism involves deficits in empathising together with talents in systemising. Some of the biological mechanisms underlying this are also tested and discussed.

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry and is also the Director of the Autism Research Centre where he has conducted extensive research into autism spectrum conditions at the psychological, diagnostic, and neuroscientific levels. He is the author of the recently published book, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain.

This talk is jointly held with CU Biological Society.

**Postponed**

Lecturer:
Dr. Emily Shuckburgh
Date:
08 Mar 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre

This talk has been postponed until further notice.

Do scientists notice the little things in life?

Lecturer:
Dr Len Fisher
Date:
30 Apr 2005 (Sat)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Fitzpatrick Hall, Queens’ College

One of the greatest problems facing scientists today is how to communicate their ideas to the general public in a lucid and accessible fashion. Only if done successfully can we excite and educate the public about science, emphasising its importance, increasing awareness and understanding, and attracting the scientists of tomorrow. The media plays a crucial role here, and it is up to scientists to use it to best effect.

Dr Len Fisher won an IgNobel Prize in 1999 for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit; his research was sponsored by McVities. He is the author of the popular science books “How to Dunk a Dougnut: The Science of Everyday Life” and “Weighing the Soul: The Evolution of Scientific Beliefs”, and is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Physics Department of the University of Bristol.

This talk is hosted in conjunction with the Milner Society, the scientific society of Queens’ College.

Star and Planet Formation

Lecturer:
Dr Cathie Clarke
Date:
03 May 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Abstract to follow.

String Theory: Unifying particles, forces and space-time

Lecturer:
Professor Michael Green FRS
Date:
18 Oct 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Antarctic Dreaming: Art Meets Science in Antarctica

Lecturer:
Professor Sandra Chapman
Date:
28 Oct 2005 (Fri)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

During the Antarctic summer season of 2003/4, Sandra Chapman put aside her work as an astrophysicist to travel with the British Antarctic Survey as an artist.

This talk will describe her 3 month journey using her photography and field sketches and paintings- on board a science ship engaged in the resupply of remote bases, undergoing antarctic training, travelling out into the field in tiny Twin Otter aircraft with the geologists and abseiling into crevasses to sketch the blue light.

This project is part of a NESTA Dreamtime Fellowship- a unique opportunity for established practitioners in one field (in this case physics) to work in another (in this case, visual arts). Sponsored by NESTA, BAS, The University of Warwick and the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University.

Sandra Chapman is Professor of Space and Astrophysics at the University of Warwick. Her scientific interests concern the plasma physics of the solar system and in the laboratory. Her artistic practice currently focuses on the landscape of scientific ideas.

The publication process at Science magazine

Lecturer:
Dr Peter Stern, Senior Editor, ‘Science International’
Date:
08 Nov 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

For many scientists the review process at SCIENCE is a bit like a black box. Someone submits a manuscript and about two weeks later receives either a rejection letter or a pre-edited version with referee comments attached. It is often difficult for people unfamiliar with the system to imagine how much has happened behind the scenes during this period of time and how much energy we have devoted to assure that the decision was as fair and unbiased as possible. This talk wants to make the review process more transparent and wants to give people guidelines of what might be considered an appropriate SCIENCE manuscript, i.e. a submission with a good chance of acceptance.

Peter Stern is one of the editors working in the SCIENCE Europe Office here in Cambridge. He is handling all submissions dealing with cellular and molecular neurobiology, systems neurobiology, ion channels, electrophysiology, neurological diseases, and neuropharmacology. He did his Ph.D. in the laboratory of Nobel prize winner Bert Sakmann in Heidelberg. After that he spent many years as an active researcher at University College London and at the Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt. He has been working as an editor for SCIENCE since 1998.

Patterns in the Sand

Lecturer:
Professor Tom Mullin FRSE
Date:
15 Nov 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

The segregation of mixtures of granular materials is a topic which is of interest to a broad range of scientists from physicists, to geologists and engineers. An everyday occurrence of the phenomenon can be seen at the breakfast table, where the fruit and nuts are usually found clustered at the top of a packet of muesli. The process can be driven by either simple avalanching in binary mixtures, or can be promoted using an external drive or perturbation. New studies throw light on surprising self-organization processes in the latter case. These will be discussed in relation to concepts from equilibrium phase transitions.

Tom Mullin is a Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester. Before this, he spent seventeen years as a fellow at Oxford University. He is deeply committed to the public understanding of science, and gives lectures on his research to schools and societies as well as appearances on television and radio. He currently holds a prestigious EPSRC Senior Fellowship and was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the American Physical Society. He also has expertise in the engineering of upside-down pendulums, and set the world record of having four stacked on end!

Prof Mullin’s primary research interests lie in fluid dynamics, with the main focus on the onset of disordered motion in fluid flows at all scales. He is internationally acclaimed for his work on applying modern mathematical ideas to the field, to concepts such as chaos and complicated flows. Recently, he has developed a strong research programme on the flow of granular materials such as sugar and poppy seeds where he has uncovered a rich variety of novel and intriguing phenomena. It is this work which will form the basis of tuesday’s lecture.

Taking the rough with the smooth: It’s all on the surface

Lecturer:
Professor Charles Stirling FRS
Date:
22 Nov 2005 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

This is a light hearted and non-technical account of the nature and behaviour of familiar and less familiar surfaces. A look at planet satellites, and our body surfaces leads on to examination of adhesion, contact angles and the history of quantitative surface investigations from Jonah to Langmuir. The profound changes in surface properties emerging from research in Sheffield have a range of applications including biomedical and produce the amazing floating digestive biscuit (should anyone need one).

Professor Charles Stirling is a senior researcher in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield; his current interests are in attempting to understand and quantify molecular behaviour in very thin organic films. Heavily involved in the public appreciation of science, he is an experienced and entertaining speaker as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Farmer to Pharma

Lecturer:
Professor Vivian Moses
Date:
24 Nov 2005 (Thu)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Transgenic technology in agriculture simultaneously offers opportunities yet poses problems for the pharmaceutical industry. On the one hand, it will become possible to produce vaccines, therapeutic drugs and other medical products in plants. That could be a cheap and effective way of doing so, more effective than by conventional methods in some countries with available land and labour for cultivation but limited skills and facilities for factory operation. On the other, there is widespread debate about the wisdom of using genetic modification in any agricultural activity and that necessarily impacts the whole concept of agri-pharma methods. So there are the questions: what can we do (now and in the near future), what should we do, and where and how might we do if there is a climate of some public reluctance?

Professor Vivian Moses obtained his BA in biochemistry from Peterhouse, followed by a Ph.D. in microbiology from UCL leading to an academic career, mostly at the University of California in Berkeley as a research director and then at Queen Mary College in London as Professor of Microbiology. Since 1993, Professor Moses has been Visiting Professor of Biotechnology at King’s College London and, since 2000, also Chairman of CropGen, an information service for helping the public appreciate the realities rather than the myths of GM crops and foods.

Death waiting in the wings – pandemic avian flu

Lecturer:
Dr Paul Digard
Date:
24 Jan 2006 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Influenza ‘A’ virus poses a major threat to public health with the potential to cause global pandemics with mortality figures in the millions, despite effective vaccines and antiviral drugs. The three major pandemics of the 20th century killed an estimated total of 50 million people. The current outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in Asia is perhaps the harbinger of the first new pandemic for nearly 40 years and is therefore of immense concern. The nature of influenza and how this influences its ecology, evolution and pathogenesis will be discussed.

Catastrophe Theory and the Nude

Lecturer:
Dr Allan McRobie
Date:
31 Jan 2006 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

The mathematics of catastrophe theory has found many applications across the sciences: in optics, wave mechanics and gravitational lensing in the physical sciences, in embryology and ecology in the biological sciences, and in the stability of structures and computer vision in engineering, to name but a few. It is not widely known that the theory also applies to art. After looking at the scientific applications, this lecture intends to demonstrate that an understanding of this mathematics can change one’s appreciation of a great deal of both traditional and modern art, with a particular emphasis on the nude.

Warning: this talk contains maths, art and nudity – do not attend if any offend.

Confronting Modern Biotechnology

Lecturer:
Mark Cantley, Directorate for Life Sciences, European Commission
Date:
07 Feb 2006 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

The “Lisbon objective” – a competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010 – should translate readily into biotechnology, but Europe seems more paralysed than inspired by the surge of new knowledge and techniques. These are globally available, sustainable, irreversible, pervasive, inspiring – and of central relevance to human needs. But we have been seduced by an agenda of propagandist intent, resulting in burdensome over-regulation and loss of trust, deterring or destroying research, innovation and investment, and betraying the moral imperative to address global needs. Our bureaucracies at every level are dysfunctional, our policies counter-productive, our NGOs dishonest, the media generally unhelpful, public opinion deluded by pseudo-problems; expertise devalued or discredited. Yet the science is beautiful, the needs vast, the technology safe and effective. The European Commission has a strategy and an Action Plan. So, what are we waiting for?

Mark Cantley has since 1999 been a senior member of the European Commission: he is Adviser in the Directorate for Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food in the Directorate-General for Research of the European Commission. From 1993 to 1998, he headed the Biotechnology Unit within the Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry of OECD, addressing policy issues in agriculture and food, health care and pharmaceuticals, and environmental services; on aspects such as safety regulations, intellectual property rights; and the financing of international research infrastructure. He has degrees in Mathematics from Cambridge and Economics from London.

Hunting the Anti-Social Cancer Cell

Lecturer:
Professor Ron Laskey
Date:
21 Feb 2006 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

One of the most effective ways of improving cancer treatments would be to improve early diagnosis, so that cancers are detected before they spread. Proteins that regulate DNA replication provide a new approach to this problem.

Replicating the human genome each cell cycle is an enormous logistical challenge. 105 replication initiation events must be co-ordinated so that all of the DNA is replicated once, exactly once and only once. How does the cell keep track of which regions it has already replicated? The answer lies in a ratchet-like system of “replication licensing”.

Proteins that make up the license are remarkably powerful markers for improving cancer screening and diagnosis.

Ron Laskey is Director of the MRC Cancer Cell Unit and The Charles Darwin Professor in Cambridge University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences and Academia Europaea and a former President of the British Society for Cell Biology. He has also written and recorded three albums of “Songs for Cynical Scientists”.

What is the “Dark Energy” Filling our Universe?

Lecturer:
Dr Martin Bucher
Date:
28 Feb 2006 (Tue)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

It has been known for quite some time that ordinary matter in the form of stars and gas contributes but a small fraction to the mean energy density filling our Universe. In the 1990s it has become increasingly clear that the expansion of our universe is, contrary to expectation, accelerating, which implies that the energy in our Universe is dominated by a bizarre new form of of energy of enormous tension known as the “Dark Energy.” Dr Bucher will review the evidence and arguments for the existence of the Dark Energy and explain why ordinary physics cannot account for its presence. He will then discuss some candidates for new physics to account for the Dark Energy and observational prospects from distinguishing between the competing proposals.

Dr Martin Bucher has held positions at Berkley, Caltech, Princeton, Cambridge and Paris-Sud, and this week he travels from Paris to address the society.

Plants in the 21st Century

Lecturer:
Professor Peter Crane, Director of Kew Gardens
Date:
08 Mar 2006 (Wed)
Time:
20:00
Venue:
Pharmacology Lecture Theatre, Tennis Court Road

Scientists have worked to define the basic units of plant diversity for more than 300 years and have recognised between 300,000 and 400,000 species of plants. This great variety of plant life has provided human society with food, shelter, fibres, medicines, and much more, for millennia. However, current trends are towards the relentless erosion of plant diversity, and also towards increasing reliance on a small number of plant species to meet major human needs. In the context of the environmental and other challenges that we face in the 21st century, this may not be a sensible strategy. But, while conserving plant diversity seems prudent, in reality it must compete with other priorities in complex trade-offs that attempt to balance sets of sometimes competing societal goals. In this context, and in a fast moving world, urgent and pragmatic conservation action is needed together with further efforts to better understand, and more clearly articulate, the consequences of plant diversity loss.

Professor Sir Peter Crane FRS is the twelfth Director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. His current research integrates studies of living and fossil plants to understand large-scale patterns and processes of plant evolution. He was awarded a knighthood in the Birthday Honours list on 12 June 2004.

Biological Computation: The Machinery of the Cell

Lecturer:
Professor Sir Sydney Brenner
Date:
01 May 2006 (Mon)
Venue:
Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry, Lensfield Road

Professor Sir Sydney Brenner is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine & Physiology 2002. Joint event with BioSoc.

Stress: Birth, Survival and Death

Lecturer:
Professor Edward Hillhouse
Date:
02 May 2006 (Tue)

Professor Edward Hillhouse is the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Leeds.

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