Oxford University Scientific Society - Hilary Term 2012

"Incest and Folk Dancing: Two Things to Avoid"

Professor Steve Jones - Wednesday, 18th January 2012 at 8.15pm

Steve Jones studied at the University of Edinburgh and was head of genetics at UCL until 2010. He is president of the Association for Science Education. He is the author of many popular genetics books, including In the Blood, Y: The Descent of Men, and Darwin's Island. He has also appeared on radio and television and was awarded the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize in 1996 for his communication of science to the public. His research has focused on genetic diversity in snails.

Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jones_(biologist).

"How do you really know what the temperature is?"

Dr Michael de Podesta (National Physical Lab)—Wednesday, 25th January 2012 at 8.15pm

The definition of the unit of temperature is about to change. At the National Physical Laboratory, Dr de Podesta has made the most accurate temperature measurement ever so that, hopefully, you won't notice the difference. The details are rather fascinating.

"Gods, Devils and Alcohol—their influence in chemical nomenclature"

Dr Peter Wothers (University of Cambridge)—Wednesday, 1st February 2012 at 8.15pm

This lively lecture, based around the composition of everyday shampoo, explores the often-convoluted history behind the names of the chemical ingredients. What connects a urinating camel to a spiral fossil? What was the significance of a birthing rat? How did Egyptian eyeliner end up making us drunk, but amethyst kept us sober? In which brands of shampoo can you find "Fooles Bolloxe" and "beaver testicles?" Under the surface of the dry, impenetrable code understood only by the initiated, the language of the chemist contains a fascinating insight into the ideas and achievements of mankind through the ages from astrology to zoology. This lecture guarantees you will never look at a bottle of shampoo in quite the same way again!

"Primate social evolution: new perspectives on an old question"

Dr Susanne Shultz (University of Oxford)—Wednesday, 8th February 2012 at 8.15pm

The social brain hypothesis argues that large brains have arisen over evolutionary time as a response to the social and ecological conflicts inherent in group living. Across all non-primate taxa, relative brain size is principally related to pair bonding, with enduring stable relationships in primates.

However, primates differ from the other taxa in that they also exhibit a strong effect of group size on brain size. Among vertebrates in general, pair bonding represents a qualitative shift from loose aggregations of individuals to complex negotiated relationships.

Adapted from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2274976/.

"Green (and brown and red) energy - prospects for algal biofuels"

Professor Alison Smith (University of Cambridge)—Wednesday, 15th February 2012 at 8.15pm

Land-based bioenergy crops create serious economic and environmental concerns, which include the sequestering of huge areas of arable land. In contrast, aquatic-based large-scale algal culturing facilities can be sited on any land, including waste or industrial sites. Moreover, algal productivity can be much higher than land plants per unit area, due to their fast growth rates.

Algae display a remarkable degree of metabolic versatility, with many species able to produce high levels of hydrocarbons, some of which are stored in the cell wall; essentially these algae produce and excrete diesel! They can also divert photosynthetic energy into another ready-to-use fuel, hydrogen or electricity. Algal growth can be directly coupled to other industrial processes, in particular the scrubbing of CO2 from flue gas and the removal of nitrates and phosphates from wastewater, which not only has a cost benefit but can reduce the carbon footprint of industrial processes.

"You are what your mother ate: the developmental origins of type 2 diabetes"

Dr Susan Ozanne (Univeristy of Cambridge)—Wednesday, 22nd February 2012 at 8.15pm

Dr Ozanne's internationally renowned research entails understanding the epigenetic mechanisms underlying metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The major focus of her research is to understand the mechanistic basis of the relationships between early growth and subsequent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, breast cancer and premature death.

"Human Enhancement: A User's Guide"

Professor Kevin Warwick (University of Reading)—Wednesday, 29th February 2012 at 8.15pm

Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, where he carries out research in artificial intelligence, control, robotics and biomedical engineering. He is known for his studies on direct interfaces between computer systems and the human nervous system, and has also done research in the field of robotics. He is the author or co-author of more than 500 research papers, and has written or edited 27 books.

Professor Warwick will explain how a cyborg is part human (or part animal) and part machine, describing four different Cyborg experiments. The area of focus is the use of electrode technology, where a connection is made directly with the cerebral cortex and/or nervous system. The presentation will also consider the future in which robots have biological, or part-biological brains and in which neural implants link the human nervous system bi-directionally with technology and the internet.

"Personality and a bit of aggression in marine invertebrates"

Dr Mark Briffa (University of Plymouth)—Tuesday*, 6th March 2012 at 8.15pm

You don't need a backbone to have a personality—that's the message from University of Plymouth scientists who have discovered that crustaceans have individual personalities, just like humans and other vertebrates. Dr Briffa led the team that made the breakthrough after studying the presence of the key personality trait ‘boldness’ in hermit crabs over a six month period. He says:

Some crabs were consistently bolder than others. Also, there were differences in the overall level of boldness in crabs taken from different locations. Crabs from Looe in Cornwall were bolder on average than their counterparts from Plymouth, which tended to be quite shy!
The team now plan to build on the research by investigating the links between boldness and other personality traits such as aggressiveness and inquisitiveness.

Adapted from http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/pages/view.asp?page=22120.

*Please note the lecture is on a different day this week.