2020 Archive

Recordings of recent online talks on our YouTube Channel

Mon 7th December 7.30pm “Fuzzy Blobs: what nebulae teach us about the Universe” – Steve Tonkin

For millennia people have wondered about the fuzzy patches in the night sky, which became called “nebulas” – clouds – and the advent of the telescope merely increased the number we could see without adding to our knowledge of what they are. The true nature of these enigmatic “fuzzy blobs” has only been known for a century or so, and they reveal a tremendous amount of information about the life and death of stars, the structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the nature of the Universe itself.

Steve Tonkin FRAS has been an amateur astronomer since childhood. He has taught astronomy to adults and children for more than 40 years and has authored many articles and several books on practical aspects of astronomy. He writes equipment reviews and a monthly Binocular Tour for BBC Sky at Night magazine. Steve is the Dark Skies Advisor to the Cranborne Chase AONB International Dark Sky Reserve.

Mon 2nd November 7.30pm “Rewilding Hampshire“.  Hampshire & IoW Wildlife Trust

Space for wildlife on our land and in our seas is being constantly squeezed: Built over, bruised, bashed, and beaten. We need to stop abusing it with chemicals and pollution. We have to give nature space and time to breathe and recover. We need a Nature Recovery Network made up of hundreds or thousands of wild spaces on land and a sea, connected up to form the arteries that will help wildlife spread through our counties.

In the coming years we believe that there is potential to find these opportunities for rewilding our land and seas. We want to see the space for wildlife trebled in our counties. We will look to at least double the land we own and we will work with farmers, landowners and public bodies to transform areas of our counties and change the fortunes of our wildlife.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is one of 46 Wildlife Trusts working across the UK. With the invaluable support of volunteers and members we manage over 50 nature reserves. We also work with other organisations and landowners to protect and connect wildlife sites across the county and inspire local communities and young people to care for wildlife where they live.

Mon 5th October 7.30pm “Where the arts meet science: Keeping the Mary Rose shipshape“. Prof Eleanor Schofield – Mary Rose Trust.

The Mary Rose, a flagship of Henry VIII’s, sank off the coast of Portsmouth in 1545. Rediscovered in the 1960s, the following years saw the excavation of over 19,000 objects, culminating in the excavation of the hull in 1982. Materials vary from leather, wood, human remains to iron, bronze and lead, with items varying in size from minuscule dice to gun carriages capable of transporting 2-3 tonne cannons. The conservation techniques and strategies employed over the last three decades will be discussed, alongside new materials and methods being developed to ensure the long term protection of this important cultural heritage.

Prof. Eleanor Schofield is the Head of Conservation and Collections Care at the Mary Rose Trust. After completing her PhD in Materials Science at Imperial College London in 2006, she completed research posts at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and the University of Kent. She joined the Mary Rose Trust in 2012 and is now responsible for the conservation of the Mary Rose hull and associated artefacts, the care and management of the collection and research into novel conservation treatments and characterisation methods.

Mon 7th September 7.30pm “Modelling medicine and calculating cancer: using mathematics to describe disease” –  Dr Joshua Bull

Mathematicians have studied patterns in nature for generations, but the idea of using maths to model biological systems is a relatively recent one. Since Alan Turing described how simple chemical interactions could give rise to complex biological patterns in 1952, mathematicians have deployed a vast range of techniques to help comprehend the intricate interactions observed in nature.

This talk will highlight how mathematics can be used to help understand modern medical problems, particularly in the fields of cancer research and immunology. We will consider how differential equations can be used to simulate tumour growth and treatment, examine how ideas from fields as diverse as topology and spatial statistics can be used to help target novel immunotherapies, and ask whether in the future mathematics could be at the heart of how doctors treat disease.

Dr Joshua Bull is a postdoctoral researcher in the Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology, part of the University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute. His research focuses on developing mathematical and statistical tools to describe immune cell interactions with cancer, and on integrating these techniques with medical imaging software to provide practical tools for medical researchers and pathologists. His work sits at the intersection of mathematics, computer vision, statistics, immunology and oncology.

Mon 3rd August 7.30pm “Reading the human skeleton” – Dr Heidi Dawson-Hobbis

This talk will discuss the techniques that can be used to gain an insight into individuals and populations from the past by analysing their skeletal remains. Using examples from her research Dr Dawson-Hobbis will discuss how biological anthropologists interpret information from the skeleton to determine identity information such as sex and age-at-death, as well as details of the lived experience including pathological lesions. How the discipline utilises evidence from scientific sampling to aid in determining how long ago an individual died (radiocarbon dating), and evidence for migration and diet (stable isotope analysis) will also be discussed.
Case studies will be drawn from her recent work on the Winchester Cathedral project ‘Kings and Scribes: the birth of a nation’, her appearance on the Channel Four programme ‘The Bone Detectives’ detailing some of her work on nineteenth century skeletal collections from Bristol, and research on medieval collections from Somerset and Winchester.
Dr Heidi Dawson-Hobbis is a Senior Lecturer in Biological Anthropology at the University of Winchester and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Bristol where she completed her PhD titled ‘Unearthing Late Medieval Children: health, status and burial practice in southern England’. She has published papers in International Journal of Paleopathology, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and Trends in Biological Anthropology.

Mon 20th July 2020 “Languages of the World: Identifying the Language of Text” Alan Ratner.

This talk is in the field of Computational Linguistics which analyzes the bit patterns of human language. It is at the intersection of Computer Science and Linguistics and is closely related to Information Theory.

There are 3 kinds of language: spoken (sequences of phonemes), written (sequences of graphical characters), and text (sequences of characters encoded for computers). This talk will focus on the languages of the world, especially in the form of text. Say you have some text such as a web page or email in a language you do not recognize. Of the many thousands of languages which one is it? Identifying the language may allow you to forward it to someone who knows the language or to the appropriate automatic translator. Difficulties include: a) some text will contain few words or may be contain more than one language, b) the ratio of linguistic information to web formatting may be quite small making everything look like English, and c) speed requirements may limit you to extremely simple algorithms (if you wish to perform this task on billions or trillions of web pages or real-time on rapidly streaming text) . This talk will provide a brief introduction to the world’s scripts (alphabets, etc.) and the languages encoded using those scripts and how languages can be identified.

Alan graduated from the Massachusetts Insititute of Technolgy and Yale University. Specializing in radio propagation in plasmas, Alan responded to a job ad placed by the US National Security Agency looking for someone to study radio propagation in the ionosphere and worked there for 35 years as a communications engineer, with 7 of those years stationed in England. As analogue communications were replaced by digital communications his interest in the physics and engineering of communications was repaced by the linguistics and computation of communications. After Alan retired from the government he became Chief Knowledge Engineer at Northrop Grumman Information Systems using parallel computing to make sense of vast data sets including text, images, audio, video, network traffic, network security and financial transactions. He retired to England in 2017.

Mon 6th July “Re-zoning and Liveable Cities” – Prof Patrick James – University of Southampton

Watch on YouTube

‘What makes a place’ and how we can engineer cities to deliver on our aspirations? We will discuss city disruptors and how they are accelerating change in our cities, COVID-19 being foremost amongst them. Shrinking retail, walkability, the value of greenspace …

Professor Patrick James is Professor of Energy and Buildings within Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Southampton.

His research is based on understanding energy use in the built environment whether this is at home, at work or at a broader urban scale. He is a specialist in micro-generation technologies including solar thermal, photo-voltaics, micro-wind and micro-CHP (see www.energy.soton.ac.uk).

Current major research projects span Energy for Development (rural electrification in Africa), future urban environments (liveablecities) and household energy use (energy and community, intelligent agents, energy and census data).He is the Principle Investigator of APERIO, an EPSRC funded study looking into the use of cameras for facade management in non-domestic buildings.

He is the Director of Programmes for postgraduate taught energy, overseeing the (i) MSc Energy and Sustainability, and (ii) MSc Sustainable Energy Technologies programmes. He is an Associate Editor of the IET Renewable Power Generation Journal and an energy based research assessor for several national funding agencies.

He specialises in energy in the built environment, where he teaches modules related to (i) energy performance assessment, (ii) climate change and settlements, (iii) energy resources and (iv) bioclimatic design.

Mon 15th June 7.30pm – “What is immunity?” – Andrew Seber

Recording on YouTube

What are antigens and antibodies? How do vaccines work? Andrew Seber covered many such questions in the molecular biology course he ran a while ago and this seems like a good time to go over the ground with Cafe Sci. The aim is to discuss immunity at cellular and molecular level to provide a general background to a topic of current interest.

Mon 1st June at 7.30pm,  “Space Debris” with Janusz Adamson.

Recording on YouTube

We have been putting objects into orbit for over 60 years. But we haven’t been so good at removing them again. Starlink is in the process of putting thousands of miniature satellites into low Earth orbit to provide ubiquitous internet coverage. It’s getting crowded up there! And minute fragments at orbiting speeds can cause massive damage to fragile structures. What does the future hold, and what are the risks and remedies?

Mon 2nd March “When stars fall into black holes: going beyond the equivalence principle.” – Dr Adam Pound, STAG

One of the cornerstones of Einstein’s theory of general relativity is the equivalence principle, which says that in a sufficiently small patch of spacetime, physics is just the same as in any other sufficiently small patch anywhere else in spacetime. One consequence is that a sufficiently small and light object in free fall in a gravitational field, no matter its internal composition, always moves on a “geodesic” (a path of longest time) in spacetime.

But this is only an approximation. In reality, any patch has finite size, and any object has both finite size and finite weight (or more precisely, creates a finite gravitational field). So how exactly is the equivalence principle corrected when these facts are accounted for?

Remarkably, gravitational-wave astronomy will soon allow us to answer this question with incredible precision.  LISA, a gravitational-wave detector that will operate in outer space, will observe the inspiral of black holes and neutron stars, weighing roughly as much as our Sun, into supermassive black holes millions of times larger. Over the space of a year or two, as it slowly falls inward, the smaller object in such a system will execute hundreds of thousands of intricate orbits around the enormous black hole, and its tiny deviations away from geodesic motion will be precisely encoded in the gravitational waves it creates.

This talk will discuss these so-called “extreme-mass-ratio inspirals”, gravitational-wave astronomy, and what they might teach us about both general physics and the nature of the huge black holes that reside at the centres of galaxies.

Adam Pound is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and permanent member of staff in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton. He has published in fields ranging from experimental polymer physics to theoretical astrophysics. His research focuses on classical general relativity and gravitational-wave science, where he has made many contributions to the theoretical understanding of relativistic motion and binary mechanics. He is a member of the LISA Consortium, a network of about 1000 scientists involved in the LISA mission, and he leads the Consortium’s ongoing effort to develop theoretical models of extreme-mass-ratio inspirals.

Mon 3rd February 2020 “Alcohol: our favourite poison” – Prof Julia Sinclair

Audio recording

Alcohol is pervasive in our society, although almost 20% of the population self-identify as ‘non-drinkers’. Everyone knows someone who has a problematic relationship with alcohol.

The stigma surrounding problematic alcohol use means that there are no influential, fund-raising patient groups demanding improvements in treatment or to drive further research.

Politicians and policy makers have a marked ambivalence to an evidenced based alcohol policy, which is perhaps not surprising given significant lobbying by the alcohol industry: and £1.3 million worth of subsidised alcohol sold in House of Commons bars in a single year.

Among health professionals ‘alcohol health literacy’ is poor, with only a minority able to accurately estimate the alcohol content of commonly consumed drinks, to make an objective assessment of risk – a lack of competence that would be seen as negligent in any other disorder (e.g diabetes).

We are with alcohol where we were with smoking 30 years ago – do we want to catch up?

“No animal ever invented anything as bad as drunkenness- or so good as drink”

 – G. K Chesterton

Julia Sinclair is Professor of Addiction Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton, and leads the alcohol care team at University Hospital Southampton.

Her clinical roles include developing an integrated alcohol strategy across local clinical services, offering direct clinical care, and work with Regulatory Bodies including the General Medical Council. She is Chair of the Addiction Faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. She has contributed to several clinical guidelines including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline for the management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence (CG115), the British Association of Psychopharmacology guidelines on the management of substance use in psychiatric disorders, and is currently working on the first clinical guideline for Public Health England. She is a Trustee of the Society for the Study of Addictions (SSA), which aims to broaden and promote the scientific understanding of addiction, and to help clinicians and policy makers get research evidence into practice.

Julia’s research is clinically focused, investigating how biological, psychological and social mechanisms interact in this group, and their impact on clinical outcomes in terms of prevention, engagement and response to treatment. She is a champion for Southampton Public Health “Dry January” campaign, and is looking forward to being at Winchester Café Sci on 3rd February!

6th January 2020 “Driving-us-closer-to-greener-transport: sustainable lightweight composites” Professor Hom Nath Dhakal

The principle of Hom’s research is combining organic materials with plastics to create composite laminates.

The goal is to see these being used for products such as car bumpers and door linings. If you’re picturing a car partly made of plant fibres and imagining it would break if you blew on it, think again. Part of Hom’s research is about proving they have the necessary strength.

He and his team conducted several experiments to find out what happens to their materials when loads are applied. There are different mechanical properties to consider – from impact strength, to flexural strength, to fatigue – depending on what a biocomposite might be used for.

Professor Hom Nath Dhakal is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering, University of Portsmouth, U.K. In addition, he is also a docent professor of bio-based materials at the faculty of textiles engineering and business, University of Borås, Sweden.
He leads the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (AMM) Research Group within the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering. His principal research interest lies in the design, development, testing and characterisation of sustainable lightweight composites, nanocomposites, natural fibre composites and biocomposites including their mechanical (tensile, flexural, low-velocity impact and fracture toughness), thermal and environmental properties (dimensional stability under harsh environments).
He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), Chartered Engineer (CEng), a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (FIET), Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) (FIMMM) and a member of the American Society for Composites (ASC).
Professor Dhakal is the author/co-author of over 100 publications in the area of light weight sustainable composite and biocomposites which has attracted well over 2400 citations with an h-index of 22; i10-index of 41 (Google Scholar as of 24/05/2019); ResearchGate score of 32.66, and higher than 90% of ResearchGate members. He has successfully supervised many PhDs as a Director of Studies; and been an external examiner for many PhDs nationally and internationally. He is a member of international scientific research committees; established national and international industrial, professional and academic networks.