UCL Lunch Hour Lectures
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- Autumn 2011
- Spring 2012
- On tour Summer 2012
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Professor Steve Jones – UCL Biology
Many people assume that the human race is in decline. The idea is an ancient one and gained new life with the work of Charles Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics. Certainly, plenty of people are surviving who once did not, and others are having children when once they would have stayed celibate; and there are plenty of cases where medicine can treat those with damaged genes and can allow them to pass them on. This lecture will argue that in spite of this popular fear, everything we know about the process of evolution conspires to ensure that – at least in the developed world, and at least for the time being – human evolution has slowed down or stopped.
Professor Ben Kaplan – UCL History
The history of religious toleration is often told as a story of the rise of modern freedom of religion. But in Europe in the centuries between the Reformation and French Revolution, people of different faiths managed to live together peacefully in the same towns and villages only by means of some very peculiar arrangements and accommodations. In this lecture, with the aid of visual materials, we explore two particular arrangements - the clandestine church and the shared church. As they show, toleration in early modern Europe took forms that bear little resemblance to modern ones, or to one another.
Professor Sophie Scott – UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
The human voice is the most complex sound with which we routinely deal, and human speech is arguably unparalleled in nature. Nonetheless, our brains seem to effortlessly pull information from the speech stream, extracting the meaning of what we hear as well as information about the speaker, such as their mood and identity. How do our brains do this, and how does this interact with the brain systems for controlling our speech output? Can we learn anything by looking at how non-human primates process sound? And can we learn anything by looking at exceptional listeners, such as phoneticians and professional voice artists?
Dr Simon Dein – UCL Medicine
Prayer and verbally answered prayer would seem to offer powerful evidence in relation to the question of human agency. Forty members of an English Pentecostal church completed a questionnaire on prayer, twenty-five of whom reported an answering voice from God; fifteen of them hearing Him aloud. The latter groups were interviewed and characteristics of phenomenology and context elicited. The voice of God cannot be held to be ipso facto pathological and many reported its utility in situations of doubt or difficulty.
Dr Alan Latham – UCL Geography
In June 2007, soon after the election of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a debate broke out in the French media about their new president's jogging habit. “Western civilization” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut claimed on national television “in its best sense, was born with the promenade. Walking is a sensitive, spiritual act.” In contrast “Jogging is management of the body. The jogger says I am in control. It has nothing to do with meditation.” In a similar vein the daily newspaper Libération wondered “Le jogging est-il de droite?” (Is jogging right wing?). And beneath a photograph of a muscular, shirtless, iPod wearing jogger it asked rhetorically, “Qui va croire que ce grand garçon vote LCR?” (Who believes that this big boy votes LCR?). Curiously, the emergence of jogging as a mass fitness activity in the 1960s and 1970s was closely associated with its ability to engender all sorts of new ways of thinking. This lecture explores this relationship between physical activity and thought.
David Cobb – UCL Business
UrbanBuzz is a unique UCL-led knowledge-exchange £5 million programme in the field of sustainable communities. It takes knowledge mainly from the academic base and converts it into useful tools and processes for practitioners to help them create safer and better places in which to live and work. Its two-year life has funded a diverse portfolio of 28 projects, all of which are required to create education and training mechanisms to ensure real outcomes are achieved. The lecture will describe the challenges for delivering the programme and, by way of case studies, illustrate the benefits and legacies being generated at a time when sustainable environmental considerations have risen near the top of the political agenda.
Professor Quentin Pankhurst – London Centre for Nanotechnology
From Mesmer and the Age of Enlightenment to the present day, ‘magnetic healing’ has had many colourful champions ready to claim they can magnetise water, wood, air and the human body – at a price. This fascination with ‘animal magnetism’ is understandable given the almost mythical properties of magnets. But is this fact or fiction? What have we learned over the years about how we as human beings interact with these sometimes powerful, always invisible, magnetic fields? In this lecture we will trace the many ways that magnets have been used in healthcare over the centuries, how they are used currently, and prospects for their future use.
Dr Mary Hilson – UCL Scandinavian Studies
For much of the twentieth century, the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) have been widely cited as examples of success, famed for their economic prosperity, social solidarity and quality of life. Much of this is attributed to the so-called Nordic or Scandinavian model: extensive welfare states, consensual democracy, an egalitarian tax system and strict job regulation. This lecture explores what makes the Nordic countries distinctive, and why this small, sparsely populated region on the periphery of Europe has attracted – and continues to attract – so much international attention. Is the Nordic success the result of specific policies during the twentieth century, or are there deeper historical and cultural explanations? How have recent events – in particular the 2006 Mohammed cartoons crisis in Denmark – challenged our idea of the Nordic countries as model societies? (The lecture draws on Dr Mary Hilson’s recent book, ‘The Nordic Model: Scandinavia since 1945’ (London: Reaktion Books, June 2008)
Professor Richard Bellamy – UCL Political Science
It has become increasingly fashionable to argue that democracy in Britain isn’t working and that a written constitution and a bill of rights could be at least part of the answer. By contrast, this lecture argues that these are part of the problem and not the solution. Drawing on his recent books ‘Political Constitutionalism’ (2007) and ‘Citizenship’ (2008), Professor Bellamy will show how democratic processes are far more effective at delivering the constitutional goods of rights and the rule of law than courts and also have more legitimacy. Constitutions subvert those processes and contribute to popular disaffection with them, producing a decline in rights protection in the process.
Dr Greg Towers – UCL Immunology & Molecular Pathology
Retroviruses such as HIV have been infecting mammals for millions of years. Host species have therefore evolved ways to protect themselves. Virus counter-evolution leads to an evolutionary arms race, described by the Red Queen hypothesis. An important defence is provided by proteins called restriction factors, such as TRIM5, which inactivate incoming viral infection and provide symptom free immunity. It seems the best way to avoid infection is to block viral replication early on. But why do humans contract HIV? This lecture will introduce the concept of innate antiviral restriction factors and consider how viruses escape them to cause disease with a focus on HIV/AIDS.
Professor Chris Carey – UCL Greek & Latin
A research team led by Professor Carey has recently published a newly discovered text. The text in question is only readable through the use of sophisticated multi-spectral imaging. This lecture will cover a combination of textual tradition, technology, politics and literary history.
Dr Daren Caruana – UCL Chemistry
Fire has always captivated the imagination of humans and probably animals too (according to King Louie who wanted to know ‘the secret of Man’s red fire’ in Disney’s production of the ‘Jungle Book’, inspired by Rudyard Kipling). Harnessing the by-products of combustion, fire and heat have actually transformed our lives in innumerable ways; from providing light to jet powered flight. In truth, scientists from many disciplines have also been captivated by the challenge of understanding fire. The earliest recorded investigations by Frances Bacon date back to 1600, but Michael Faraday propelled flames into the limelight when he famously captivated his audience at a Christmas lecture at the Royal Institution called ‘Chemical History of a Candle’ in 1861. However, research on flames and combustion in general, has experienced a lull in recent years. This lecture will explore and present a modern take on flames; in particular the chemistry and the electrical properties of flames.
Professor Thomas Rademacher – UCL Infection & Immunity
In April 2003 Prince Charles was purported as using the expression ‘grey goo’ to describe the dangers of nanotechnology. These fears centred around the belief that self-replication is an essential part of the molecular manufacturing process. The idea that self-replicating robots, smaller than viruses, will one day multiply uncontrollably and devour our planet is now seen as science fiction. Five years on, emerging nanotechnologies have created an unstoppable disruptive force that will change medicine, the environment and the economy in ways we are only starting to imagine. It is no longer about miniaturisation but about creating structures which function at the quantum edge.
Dr Tiziana Rossetto – UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering
In engineering, earthquake vulnerability is traditionally thought of as the likelihood of damage (or collapse) occurring in the built environment under earthquake loading. Human losses, in terms of deaths and injuries, are assumed to be linked to the vulnerability of the built environment and are derived from the latter through fairly simplistic approaches. Societal impact is practically never assessed, nor is societal composition or factors of resilience included in the majority of human loss calculations. This lecture advocates that the traditional barriers between disciplines (such as engineering and social sciences) need to be overcome in order to advance the state-of-the-art in earthquake vulnerability assessment, and presents some attempts for doing this.
Professor Pete Coffey – UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
The London Project to Cure Blindness aims to make the most of human embryonic stem cells to prevent blindness, restore sight, and improve quality of life in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) within five years from the initiation of the programme (2007). Our goal is to replace cells essential for “seeing” lost by disease at the back of the eye. We aim to repair and regenerate the aged diseased eye using human embryonic stem cells which have been transformed into the cells affected in AMD: the support cells for the photoreceptors (retinal pigment epithelium) and the photoreceptors. The cells will be surgically implanted into a clinical population of AMD patients.
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