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Spring 2008

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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.

Difference in cognitive abilities between the sexes (15 Jan 2008)

Professor Adrian Furnham (UCL Psychology)
To suggest there are differences in cognitive abilities between the sexes is anathema to many. Academics have been sacked for suggesting that there may be difference in intelligence between men and women. Evidence from 25 studies conducted in as many countries shows that females tend to give significantly lower estimates than males of their own intelligence – around five IQ points – which is currently the estimate of the actual difference between how the sexes score in IQ tests. I will examine and discuss the many implications of this controversial area of research.

Reconstructing a face after cancer surgery (17 Jan 2008)

Dr Nicholas Kalavrezos (University College Hospital)
Cancer of the mouth and face affects our swallowing, our speech and, more importantly, our self-perception and self-esteem. Therefore, reconstructive surgery of the mouth and face touches on the deepest human feelings about identity. The surgery offers the promise of allowing patients to eat, drink and communicate again through the wide variety of facial expressions and mannerisms that most people take for granted. In a ten-hour procedure, the patient’s cancer is removed, and a new facial ‘flap’ is attached to the recipient’s blood vessels and nerves. The tissues are matched for colour and type, and function. However, the patient’s compliance and contribution to that recovery are equally as important as the surgery itself.

Intelligent Colour (22 Jan 2008)

Professor Geoffrey A Ozin (UCL and London Centre for Nanotechnology)
Not all colours in nature originate from pigments. Colour can also emerge if the microstructure of a material is fashioned into a grating that allows optical diffraction. In nanotechnology, this ‘structural colour’ is now within our grasp, and it is easy to imagine how it can be intelligently integrated into jewellery and artwork, vehicles and buildings. Beyond ‘static’ structural colour is a ‘dynamic’ form that could enable a full colour display, where one material provides an infinite range of colours – for use in security devices for identification and authentification, and military vehicles with active camouflage, for example. Opportunities for intelligent colour are truly boundless.

The Return of Syphilis (24 Jan 2008)

Dr Patrick French
Between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, syphilis had essentially been eradicated in the UK. There is now an outbreak of syphilis with more diagnoses each year than at any time since the 1940s. This lecture will outline the nature of syphilis and its importance. Why is syphilis still so common worldwide when it is easy to diagnose and cure? How was syphilis eradicated in the UK? Why did it return and what does this say about the sexual health of the UK?

What can Venus, Mars and Titan tell us about Earth? (29 Jan 2008)

Professor Andrew Coates (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory)
Several space missions of planetary exploration are currently underway, including Venus Express and Mars Express to our planetary neighbours, and Cassini-Huygens to Saturn. In this talk we will look at some of the results from these missions.  Remarkably, these distant bodies can also tell us more about our own planet. Will the greenhouse effect run away here as it has at Venus, or might severe climate change happen as at Mars? Does Titan really show us what prebiotic Earth was like? We will also look at possible future space missions to these bodies.

Hepatitis B, a neat little virus (31 Jan 2008)

Professor Richard Tedder (UCL Centre for Virology)
The hepatitis B virus is one of the smallest known human pathogens. The virus particle itself was first described in UCL’s Medical School nearly 40 years ago, although its existence had been surmised for much longer. Not only is the virus small in physical size, its genetic information is tiny – one thousandth of that in an average bacterium. Its complex lifestyle continues to yield insights into host–parasite relationships and the way in which persistent infections by some viruses have evolved to confuse the immune system – posing problems for vaccines and for antiviral drug therapy.

The Pleasures of Driving (5 Feb 2008)

Professor Iain Borden (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)
Nowadays we are all highly aware of the considerable disadvantages, danger and damage caused by automobile driving. Yet people continue to drive, even when suitable alternatives exist. This talk examines some of the historical reasons as to why people like to drive. I will look in particular at some of the city driving of the 1960s and 1970s, and use films such as ‘The Italian Job’, ‘Duel’, ‘C’était un Rendez-vous’ and ‘Vanishing Point’ to explore notions of liberation, adventure, self-awareness and risk-taking. Given this history, should we be trying to restrict driving purely to essential journeys? Conversely, should driving be reserved purely for occasions of personal pleasure?

The Ying and Yang of Cellular Communication (7 Feb 2008)

Dr Alexander Gourine (UCL Physiology)
This lecture looks at how cells in emerging multicellular organisms have evolved ways of communicating with each other. The basic ‘yes’ and ‘no’ signalling was probably mediated by release of substances which were abundant inside the cells – the excitatory Yang of the molecule charged with energy (purine nucleotide ATP) and the inhibitory Yin of the molecule devoid of energy (its breakdown product adenosine). Both substances are important modulators of cellular functions, playing often opposing roles in the peripheral tissues as well as in the central nervous system. This lecture will use examples from current research to show how this dual system of conveying information from one cell to another was preserved during evolution.

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement: Law, Science and Globalising Markets (19 Feb 2008)

Professor Joanne Scott (UCL Laws)
The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement is one of the most innovative and controversial aspects of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This agreement uses science as a benchmark for assessing the legality of Member State regulation and has, in high-profile cases such as EC Hormones and EC Biotech, been used to condemn regulatory measures as unlawful. The agreement, and the institutions which develop and apply it, walk a precarious line between trade, public health and environmental protection. This lecture will examine and evaluate the operation of this agreement, both before the WTO ‘courts’ and in the more cooperative setting of the SPS Committee.

Tesla and the Art of Fugue (21 Feb 2008)

Artist-in-Residence Gordana Novakovic (UCL Computer Science)
Although the field of ‘art and science’ – the fusion of art, science and technology – has existed for at least two decades, its validity and value are still questioned, often very forcefully, by both the artistic and scientific communities. This talk will examine some of the arguments both for and against art and science, drawing on material from Tesla, the open discussion forum on art and science at UCL Computer Science, and Fugue, Tesla’s first project. While some of the questions will probably be answered, it is equally likely that some new ones will be asked.

Lovers in Lab Coats: When Scientists Collaborate as Husband and Wife (26 Feb 2008)

Dr Joe Cain (UCL Science & Technology Studies)
The newlyweds George Gaylord Simpson (palaeontologist) and Anne Roe (psychologist) travelled through Venezuela on an expedition in 1938–39. The result was intellectual work unlike anything each did elsewhere in their long careers. Romantic and intimate partnerships offer fascinating case studies of collaboration in science. They produce unusual intellectual synergies. They alter life–work patterns. They simultaneously constrain and liberate. These collaborations tend to be overlooked by historians and biographers of science, leaving us with vastly inferior knowledge of science as a living, working enterprise.

Astrochemistry: The Making of Stars and Planets (28 Feb 2008)

Dr Serena Viti (UCL Physics & Astronomy)
Stars are formed from the interstellar medium and yet throughout their lifetime they feed material back into it. The interaction and exchange between the stars and the interstellar medium is vital to an understanding of the mechanisms that drive our universe. Most stars are mainly hydrogen and are very hot. The interstellar medium is usually cold, dusty and made up of hundreds of different atomic and molecular species. A complex chemical and physical evolution must take place in the stellar environments. Astrochemistry studies this evolution. This lecture aims to give an overview of this relatively new subject by reviewing recent advances in astrochemistry and its relevance to other fields such as cosmology and astrobiology.

Toad Meets T-Rex: the Evolution and Diversification of Frogs (4 March 2008)

Professor Susan Evans (UCL Anatomy & Developmental Biology)
Love them or loathe them, frogs have a place in popular culture, from ‘Kermit’ to ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. The short, tailless body, large head, and long legs give a profile that is vaguely humanoid, but frogs are optimised for leaping rather than walking – a locomotor strategy that has been highly successful.  Among amphibians, their body plan is unique, prompting questions as to its origin and evolutionary history. Some of the answers may be found in the fossil record of frogs, dating back 250 million years to the very beginning of the ‘Age of Dinosaurs’.

Born Black, Brown or White in Today's Britain: Does it Really Matter? (6 March 2008)

Dr Yvonne Kelly (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health)
People from certain ethnic minority groups living in the UK are at increased risk of disease and death compared with the majority population, but the reasons for these patterns are not known. It is also not clear at what point during life such differences begin to appear – could this be as early as childhood or even infancy? This lecture looks at the origins of ethnic differences in health – are they genetic, behavioural, or socio-environmental?

The Strange Case of Hart Crane and Samuel Greenberg (11 March 2008)

Professor Mark Ford (UCL English Language & Literature)
One of the most striking poems in the American poet Hart Crane’s first collection ‘White Buildings’ (1926) is ‘Emblems of Conduct’. Long after Crane’s premature death in 1932, it emerged that this poem was in fact a mosaic of lines appropriated from an almost unknown New York poet called Samuel Greenberg, who had died in 1917 at the age of 23 – and whose work would probably have disappeared altogether had it not been plagiarised by Crane. This lecture will explore the nature and implications of this theft, and make a case for the long neglected work of the ill-fated Greenberg.

Living Without a Language Instinct: Language, the Brain and Children With Specific Language Impairment (13 March 2008)

Professor Heather Van Der Lely (UCL Centre for Developmental Language Disorders & Cognitive Neuroscience)
Language is a highly complex, specialised cognitive ability that is unique to humans. Nevertheless, most three-year-olds can talk using simple sentences. However, seven per cent of otherwise normally developing children have ‘specific language impairment’ (SLI), and many of these children have dyslexia too. SLI has a strong genetic component and for many individuals it is a life-long impairment. The long-term costs are socially, culturally, and economically high. I will present some research findings, using traditional and brain imaging techniques, to explain these children’s language problems. SLI provides a unique window into the brain, how specialised systems develop, and how our findings can help children.

Page last modified on 12 may 10 16:49


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