Spring 2012

View lunch hour lectures below (as streamed media files) by clicking on the lecture titles, or visit us on Youtube or  UCL iTunes U.  

Exploring the Arctic from space (17 Jan 2012)

Dr Katharine Giles (UCL Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling)

The Arctic’s supposed promise of abundant natural resources, shipping routes and scientific discoveries, has a long held fascination for those prepared to brave its harsh environment. With climate models predicting that the Polar Regions are the most sensitive to climate change, our need to understand them becomes increasingly important. The sub-zero temperatures and inhospitable icescapes faced by explorers also present problems to scientists collecting data. This lecture focuses on how satellites can help us understand the changing Arctic, and will also come back down to Earth to show UCL scientists stepping out onto the frozen ocean to validate the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite, which is designed to measure changes in the ice cover with unprecedented accuracy.

What has Facebook done to us? (19 Jan 2012)

Prof Daniel Miller (UCL Anthropology)

Detailed research on the impact of Facebook on a population reveals very different consequences from those generally presented in newspapers. It also suggests the future of such social networking sites may be very different from their past.

Is complex life a freak accident? (24 Jan 2012)

Dr Nick Lane (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment)

Natural selection is a kind of search engine. Given enough time, and suitably vast populations, it should find the best solutions repeatedly. So why are bacteria still bacteria? And why did all complex life on our planet share an ancestor that only arose once in four billion years? In this lecture Nick Lane suggets that everything we see around us stemmed from a freak accident two billion years ago. We are far from inevitable, and may be alone in a universe of bacteria.

The triumph of Human Rights: dream or nightmare? (26 Jan 2012)

Colm O'Cinneide (UCL Laws)

Since 1945, the language of human rights has acquired great potency and resonance. Human rights law plays an ever-greater role in national legal systems, and states are now expected to respect an ever-growing range of basic rights. However, a growing backlash can now be detected against the apparently ever-expanding scope of human rights guarantees. Has the concept of human rights been stretched too far? Has it departed from its core mission? This lecture addresses some of these questions, and makes the case for an expansive conception of rights.

The lure of the Kremlin: the court of Ivan the Terrible and global networks in the 16th century (31 Jan 2012)

Dr Sergei Bogatyrev (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies)

In the sixteenth century, the rise of Muscovy was accompanied by military aggression and the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a result of military conflicts and cultural differences, Westerners began to see Russia as a barbarian kingdom, whose rulers kept it locked away from the outside world. However, this lecture demonstrates that the court of Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) and other tsars was actually a focus point of exchange in technology, commodities and ideas with both the East and the West, and that Muscovite regalia, court rituals and illuminated manuscripts were in fact a result of intensive global interactions.

Cutting to cure cancer and 'the limits set by nature' (2 Feb 2012)

Prof Tom Treasure (UCL Clinical Operations Research Unit)

Surgeons look back and see the expectations of their predecessors exceeded, and obstacles to progress once thought to be insurmountable, bypassed as a matter of routine. But in cancer surgery there have been some notable reversals. Selection of only the most favourable cases and the need to accompany operations with chemotherapy and radiotherapy must raise doubts about how effective surgery itself is in controlling cancer. In this lecture, to mark World Cancer Day, Professor Treasure describes research findings and changes in practice that indicate that the limits of cancer surgery may have already been overstepped. He poses the question: when our present day efforts become history, how will cancer surgery be judged by future generations?

The mystery of Master Humphrey: one of Dickens's most enigmatic characters (7 Feb 2012)

Dr Matthew Beaumont (UCL English)

This lecture investigates one of Dickens's most peculiar and enigmatic characters, Master Humphrey, the narrator of The Old Curiosity Shop (that is, until he is mysteriously dismissed from this role). It details some of Humphrey's oddities, and speculates about his puzzling past, before discreetly following him into the streets of London at night. It identifies him as a far more disturbing individual than readers of this supposedly sentimental novel tend to assume, and locates his unsettling descendants in novels by Stevenson, Joyce and Nabokov, among others.

John Bull vs Stinkomalee: Tory opposition in the early days of the University of London (now UCL) (9 Feb 2012)

Prof Rosemary Ashton (UCL English Language and Literature)

In 1825 a group of liberal politicians, lawyers, dissenting ministers, Roman Catholics, and Jews came together to found a university in London aimed at those excluded from the two old-established English universities, where teachers and students were required to be subscribing Anglicans.  To mark the anniversary of UCL’s foundation on 11 Feb 1826 this lecture looks at the opposition to the new university among Tory politicians and journalists, especially in the ultra-Tory paper John Bull, which nicknamed the new institution 'Stinkomalee' in honour of the swampy rubbish dump on which the building was constructed between 1826 and 1828.

The metaphysics of concrete (21 Feb 2012)

Professor Adrian Forty (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)

Almost three tons of concrete are produced every year for each man, woman and child on the planet. It is now second only to water in terms of human consumption. Yet how has the astonishing take-up of this new medium within little over a century been accommodated into our mental universe? While it has transformed the lives of many people, in Western countries it has been widely vilified, blamed for making everywhere look the same, and for erasing nature. Architects and engineers, although they have primary responsibility for 'interpreting' concrete, are not the only people to employ the medium, and many other occupations - politicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, churchmen - have made use of concrete for purposes of their own. The results are often contentious, and draw attention to the contradictions present in how we think about our physical surroundings.

Genetic testing for risk of Heart Disease: fact or fiction? (23 Feb 2012)

Prof Steve Humphries (UCL Institute of Human Genetics and Health)

An individual’s risk of Coronary Heart Disease is currently based on classical risk factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, smoking habits and obesity. However, most heart attacks occur in individuals with only average classical risk factors. In this lecture, Professor Humphries discusses how family history of Heart Disease is also an important predictor, and how identifying specific genes and DNA variants within family history could help doctors offer lifestyle and drug advice to individuals.  This lecture then focuses on the need for researchers to explore different ways of presenting information about genetic risk, to find approaches that minimise a sense of fatalism and maximise motivation for behaviour change.

From Euclid to modern geometry: Do the angles of a triangle really add up to 180˚? (28 Feb 2012)

Professor Mark Ronan (UCL Mathematics)

More than two thousand years ago, Euclid of Alexandria wrote the most successful textbook of all time. Starting with a few simple assumptions (often called axioms), he proved one result after another — for example that the angles of a triangle add up to 180˚. Euclid's work was later translated into Arabic, then from Arabic into Latin, and scholars wondered whether the last of his five axioms — which referred to parallel lines, and sounded more like a theorem than an assumption — wasn't simply a necessary consequence of the other four. Many tried to prove this, and some false proofs were published. I shall give a very convincing one before outlining the history of geometry up to the nineteenth century. That's when three people independently discovered a perfectly consistent geometry in which the Euclid's fifth axiom is not true, and where the angles of a triangle no longer add up to 180˚. This new work inspired others and led eventually to the sort of geometry Einstein needed for his theory of gravity.

The Great American Novel: How and Why (1 Mar 2012)

Dr Kasia Boddy (UCL English Language & Literature)

Parodied almost as soon as it was announced, and generally regarded as a topic beneath the remit of serious literary criticism, the Great American Novel enterprise has proved more durable and more various than almost any other in American literary culture. It remains the bench-mark for literary ambition, prestige, and sales. This lecture, to mark World Book Day, considers some of the forms the Great American Novel has taken in its 150-year history and asks what social, political, moral, commercial and aesthetic needs it so persistently promises to serve.

Patents stop people doing things. So why are they a good thing? (6 Mar 2012)

The Rt. Hon. Professor Sir Robin Jacob (UCL Laws)

The public debate about patents is old and never stops. Here is what Jeremy Bentham said: 'So long as men are governed by unexamined prejudices and led away by sounds, it is natural for them to regard Patents as unfavourable to the encrease of wealth. So soon as they obtain clear ideas to annex to these sounds, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than recognize them to be favourable to that encrease: and that in so essential a degree, that the security given to property can not be said to be compleat without it'. This lecture puts the debate in modern context and shows why Bentham was right.

Having it all: dispelling the myths about work and motherhood (8 Mar 2012)

Dr Anne McMunn (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health)

We hear a lot about the stresses of juggling motherhood with paid work, and the subsequent harm this might cause children. However, this lecture to mark International Women’s Day discusses evidence from UK cohort studies following generations of men and women which suggests that working mothers not only end up healthier in mid-life, but that their daughters may also end up happier too.

The search for genius and Einstein's brain (13 March 2012)

Dr Mark Lythgoe (Director, UCL Centre for Advanced Medical Imaging)

To mark Brain Awareness Week, Dr Mark Lythgoe takes audiences on a journey in search of the greatest brain of the 20th century, a brain which was removed during the autopsy of Einstein in 1955.  Through this journey, Dr Lythgoe discusses whether Einstein’s brain was extra special, and what this research can tell us about genius. Finally, the lecture takes a playful look at whether we all have the potential to unlock our creative mind.

3D imaging: nanotechnology and the quest for better medical sensors (15 March 2012)

Prof Ian Robinson (UCL London Centre for Nanotechnology)

The smaller the scales we want to look at, the bigger the tools we need to use, and with complex equipment of this magnitude, it is becoming more and more common for research groups to share central user facilities.  Focusing on UCL's use of central user synchrotron radiation facilities (sub-atomic particle accelerators), this lecture highlights developments in the 3D imaging of nanomaterials in the ultimate quest for creating better medical sensors.

Page last modified on 20 mar 12 15:29

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