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Spring 2007

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View older lunch hour lectures as streamed media files (below), or visit the UCL iTunes U site to view and download all UCL Lunch Hour lectures.


Autoimmune diseases – A card game analogy (16 Jan 2007)

Professor David Isenberg (UCL Medicine)

Approximately 1 person in 20 in the course of their life time will suffer from a ‘self-attack’ autoimmune disease. These may vary from diseases which affect principally a single organ such as diabetes where the attack is directed towards the pancreas to disease in which many organs and systems are directly attacked. Factors which conspire to cause these diseases, many of which are life threatening, will be discussed in the context of a card game analogy.

The Referee in Italian History (18 Jan 2007)

Dr John Foot (UCL Italian)
For the Italian football fan, the referee is always corrupt, unless proven otherwise. What remains to be discovered is how he is or has been corrupt, in favour of whom, and why. It is this thesis that dominates most discussions of Italian football.  In Italy, there is the strong conviction that the state, its rules and regulations are flexible entities, besmirched with corruption and therefore ready to be flouted and challenged. This conviction has a strong historical basis. In Italy, as the writer and football critic Giovanni Arpino put it, ‘those who hold power, even for ninety minutes, are never looked upon in a good light’. This talk puts the history of the institution of the football referee in historical and cultural context.

Crossing your Rubicon (23 Jan 2007)

Professor Maria Wyke (UCL Latin and Greek)
For Renaissance tyrants, 18th and 19th century generals, and 20th century dictators, Julius Caesar’s action in crossing over into Italy and marching on Rome at the head of an army represented a willingness to usurp power. ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ became so famous an event that the phrase could designate metaphorically an audacious and irreversible political step such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It has even been applied to sexual activity, as in the late 17th century: ‘Some Caesar pass’d my mother’s Rubicon; wou’d I had his commentaries’. Why has this and other events of Caesar’s life proved so reusable?

Humanitarian Assistance – A Dangerous Challenge (25 Jan 2007)

Professor James Ryan (UCL Surgery)
Confucius’s phrase “May you live in interesting times” can be interpreted equally as a blessing or a curse. When directed at a prospective humanitarian aid volunteer, eager to embark on an overseas aid mission in the new millennium, the phrase leans increasingly towards the latter.  The relative climate of safety enjoyed by humanitarian volunteer has disappeared, largely due to the radical restructuring of the world political scene in the last quarter of the twentieth century.  This paper will explain the background to these changes and discusses the implications for humanitarian assistance in the new millennium.

Sudden Death in the Young (30 Jan 2007)

Professor William McKenna (UCL Medicine)
More than 300 adolescents and young adults die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the UK. Most of these deaths are caused by inherited forms of heart disease and are potentially preventable. Mass screening programs are unlikely to be cost effective, but targeted cardiac evaluation of 'at risk' cohorts, those with symptoms and a family history of inherited cardiac disease or premature sudden death, should identify the majority of individuals at risk. Identification of disease-causing genes is feasible and genetic evaluation facilitates definition of 'at risk' relatives. The majority of affected individuals will not die suddenly. Importantly, it is possible to risk stratify and implement effective treatments with drugs or devices e.g. the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a specialised pacemaker which recognises and terminates potentially lethal arrhythmias.

On the trail of Africa's elephants (1 Feb 2007)

Professor Adrian Lister (UCL Biology)
Elephants are among the most visible of endangered species, and are one of the key 'flagship' species for conservation. The African elephant has attracted renewed interest recently because of the suggestion that there are actually two distinct species: the better-known savannah elephant of East and Southern Africa, and the less-studied, smaller forest elephant of the Central and West African rainforests. The lecture will describe an expedition led by the author to Ghana, an area where the two forms may once have met, and the genetical and observational work that is being undertaken to resolve the issue. This leads to a discussion of the nature of 'species', and of the way in which seemingly academic taxonomic work can be 'politicised' by the needs of governmental and conservation organisations.

Imaging the body using light (6 Feb 2007)

Dr Adam Gibson (UCL Medical Physical and Bioengineering)
A new approach to medical imaging uses light to generate images of newborn babies’ brains and breast cancer. Blood absorbs light strongly and its colour depends on how much oxygen it is carrying, so imaging using light provides a direct measurement of both the volume of blood and its oxygen content.  We have used this technique, called optical tomography, to image the blood supply to the brains of both ill and healthy premature babies, and the increased blood flow to cancer in the breast. Optical tomography provides relevant clinical information which may not otherwise be available.

Borrowed words: from ‘bus’ to ‘basi’ (8 Feb 2007)

Professor Moira Yip (UCL Phonetics and Linguistics)
When languages come into contact, they may borrow words from each other. In the process, the pronunciation of these words may be adapted to make them more easily absorbed into the host language. A study of these changes tells us a great deal about how we perceive the sounds of languages that are not our own, and how the systematic grammar of our own language controls and moulds what we perceive into patterns that we find acceptable. What is the division of labour between perception and grammar? Illustrations will be drawn mainly from English words borrowed into Cantonese and Mandarin.

The Contradictions of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon Penitentiary (20 Feb 2007) 

Sorry, there is no film available for this lecture

Professor Philip Steadman (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)
Enormous influence has been attributed by architectural historians and social scientists – most prominent among them Michel Foucault – to Jeremy Bentham’s design for a Panopticon prison where the warders could observe the prisoners twenty four hours a day. These writers have seen in the Panopticon the original model for a new kind of supervisory power relation across a whole range of 19th century types of institutional and industrial building. The truth is however that few prisons were ever built to Bentham’s design, and these were largely failures. This lecture will explore the deep contradictions within Bentham’s proposals, and will show how these were to an extent resolved in the type of radial prison exemplified by Pentonville, whose design was copied around the world.

The Secular Tradition of UCL (22 Feb 2007)

Dr Negley Harte (UCL History)
A founding principle of the University of London when it opened in 1828 was to break away from religious controversy. It was not necessary to be an Anglican to be admitted, as it firmly was at Oxford and Cambridge; it was not necessary even to be a Christian. Religion was to figure neither among the entrance requirements nor on the syllabus. The secular tradition has been maintained – with a few wobbles – up to the present day, as one of UCL’s major contributions to the improvement of civilisation.

Empathy and the teenage brain (27t Feb 2007)

Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience)
The brain has evolved to understand other people. A relatively new area of neuroscience is the investigation of the social brain. Recent research has shed light on how we are able to understand other people’s actions and intentions. Neuroscience has also made important steps towards understanding impairments in these abilities, such as those found in autism. In addition, recent research has begun to focus on how the social brain develops during adolescence.

Persistent Memory – Generating a work of art as a memorial (1 March 2007)

Professor John Aiken (UCL Slade School of Fine Art)
The lecture looks at how a specific brief can be interpreted and developed from idea to presentation to completed work of art. Several recent projects will be presented including a completed large scale commission for Bristol City Centre and the sculpture at the Euston Road entrance to the new University College Hospital. The lecture will focus primarily on a very recent proposal for a memorial to the slave labourers working on underground Second World War fortifications in Jersey.

Are organic cities better than geometric ones? (6 March 2007)

Sorry, there is no film available for this lecture

Professor Bill Hillier (UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)
Cities seem to come in two kinds: the organic, with their irregular patterns of space, and the geometric, with their regular grids. The former we take to be the bottom-up products of everyday life, the latter the top-down constructs of rational minds. But which actually works best? New kinds of spatial analysis developed at UCL show that organic cities have their own kind of 'probabalistic' geometry, which is also imposed by human minds, though in a step-by-step way, and leads to emergent forms in many ways better than regular grids at doing what cities do.

Arsenic and Lace - Secret Methods of Old Master Painters (8 March 2007)

Ms Libby Sheldon (UCL History of Art)
Mummies, arsenic, finger prints, and lace sound like key works in a crime novel, but they have provided unlikely sources for some of the most beautiful and desirable painting materials or means with which to achieve the right effect. The subject of this talk is new research in the relatively recent discipline of technical art history, which is revealing some surprising tricks and tools used by painters in the making of paintings - perhaps more than artists such as Reynolds, Chardin or Vermeer might have wished us to know.

Stem cell therapies are no more drugs than soufflés are fast food (13 March 2007)

Dr Chris Mason (UCL Biochemical Engineering)
Stem cell discoveries make great news stories but their actual translation into routine clinical practice is still a very major hurdle. Is it reasonable to expect the big pharmaceutical companies to manufacture these living therapies or is the paradigm shift from today’s drugs to living cells as therapies overwhelming? Would McDonald’s ever put delicate soufflés on their fast-food menus?  This lunch hour lecture will use examples from current cell and tissue-engineered clinical therapies to illustrate the exciting challenge of translating great science into first-line therapies for everyone.

Nanotechnology (15 March 2007)

Professor Gabriel Aeppli (UCL London Centre for Nanotechnology)
Nanotechnology has already changed our lives, and promises to have even more profound effects in the future. The lecture will review success of the recent past, and describe how work at the London Centre for Nanotechnology, a joint venture between Imperial and University Colleges, is laying the groundwork for improvements in healthcare, information technology, and maintenance of our environment.

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