2021 Archive

See youtube.com/WinchesterCafeScientifique for recordings of online talks

1st November 2021 7.30pm “Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World” – Prof Mike Benton

Dinosaurs are not what you thought they were – or at least, they didn’t look like you thought they did. The world-leading palaeontologist Michael J. Benton brings us a new visual guide to the world of the dinosaurs, showing how rapid advances in technology and amazing new fossil finds have changed the way we see dinosaurs forever. Stunning new illustrations from palaeoartist Bob Nicholls display the latest and most exciting scientific discoveries in vibrant colour.

No book before this has been so rigorous in its use of new data that finally tell us how dinosaurs actually looked. From Sinosauropteryx, the first dinosaur to have its colour patterns identified – a ginger and white striped tail – by Benton’s team at Bristol University in 2010, to the recent research on the mixed feathers and scales of Kulindadromeus, this is the first book to be based on cutting-edge scientific research.

Michael Benton was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014 for his fundamental contributions to understanding the history of life, particularly biodiversity fluctuations through time. He is fascinated by the transformation of palaeobiology from a speculative subject to testable science and led one of these discoveries – how to determine the colour of dinosaurs, rated as one of the top scientific discoveries of the 2010s. He works with fossils and rocks to interpret ancient environments, especially around the end-Permian mass extinction, the greatest loss of life on Earth, some 250 million years ago. He also works with fossils to build evolutionary trees and use them to date major events and rates and patterns of evolution, so helping us understand why some groups of animals are more successful than others. He is currently working on the Triassic, the time during which life recovered from the end-Permian mass extinction and when modern ecosystems arose; this was a time of arms races between major groups, and dinosaurs won.

Michael Benton has written some 400 scientific papers and more than 50 books on a broad range of palaeontological topics. He has supervised more than 70 PhD students, and was founder of the Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology, which has welcomed 400 students since its foundation, in 1996.

Monday 4th October 7.30pm “The role of blended hydrogen: decarbonizing heating” – Prof Zoe Robinson – Keele University

Reaching ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions requires a fundamental shift in our energy systems.  The Committee on Climate Change and Government clearly see a role for hydrogen in our transition to a low carbon economy. With ~85% of homes in the UK on the gas grid, rapid decarbonization of heating is one of our biggest challenge. One stepping stone is to blend hydrogen into our existing gas grid, allowing us to continue to use existing infrastructure and appliances, creating immediate decarbonization benefits, while also making important steps to further drive a hydrogen economy.  This talk will explore the role of blended hydrogen and the consumer response to this, in our pathway to net zero, drawing on the work of the HyDeploy project, a national project led by Cadent, funded by Ofgem, and which saw the first blending of hydrogen (since the end of Town Gas in 1976) on a live gas grid at Keele University in October 2019, and continues today on a public site in the north east of England.

Prof. Zoe Robinson is Professor of Sustainability in Higher Education and Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at Keele University. Zoe is a Sustainability Scientist with 15 years of experience around sustainability transformations, working across the natural and social sciences boundaries. Zoe’s current research includes ‘user-centric design’ of a smart local energy system, and consumer perceptions of energy transitions including smart energy and hydrogen, through involvement in the national HyDeploy project, and Keele University’s Smart Energy Network Demonstrator. Zoe also has a background of working in sustainability education and community engagement funded through Defra’s Climate Challenge Fund, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Research Councils UK, Institute of Physics amongst others, and working in partnership with a wide range of community organisations, networks, and councils.

Mon 6th September “Slowdown” – Prof Danny Dorling

Danny Dorling talking about the pandemic as well as some of the ideas in his book: “SLOWDOWN: The end of the Great Acceleration – and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives”

Do you think human population growth is out of control? Maybe it isn’t!

 Are you often told that the pace of technological change is speeding ever faster and faster? But is it?

 Are we becoming ever more productive worldwide with economic growth each decade always out stripping the past? No?

 So, what is speeding up and when was the great acceleration?

 Come hear a few ideas, ask questions, argue, tell where I am wrong and on what we might agree    

Danny Dorling is a professor in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He was previously a professor for a decade at the University of Sheffield, and before then a professor at the University of Leeds. In early 2021 the paperback edition of his book with Yale University Press on: “Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration—and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives was published. Later in 2021, jointly with Annika Koljonen, he is publishing an updated paperback edition of: Finntopia: what we can learn from the world’s happiest country with Agenda publishing and Columbia University Press. He is a patron of the road crash charity RoadPeace, and in his spare time he makes sandcastles.    

Monday 2nd August 7.30pm Ten Days in Physics That Shook the World” –Brian Clegg

Physics informs our understanding of how the world works – but more than that, key breakthroughs in physics have transformed everyday life. We journey back to ten separate days in history to understand how particular breakthroughs were achieved, meet the individuals responsible and see how each breakthrough has influenced our lives. Each date and breakthrough focuses on discoveries that have had a practical impact on our day-to-day life.

Without Rudolph Clausius’ research in thermodynamics, we wouldn’t have fridges or air con and without Marie Curie’s discovery of polonium, we wouldn’t have life-saving radiotherapy treatments. We shouldn’t forget how Newton’s research into gravity has allowed us to use satellites for our Satnavs and put astronauts into space!

Brian Clegg is a popular science writer whose Dice World and A Brief History of Infinity were both longlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books. He has written for publications including Nature, The Times and BBC Focus.

Mon 5th July 7.30pm “Looking to nature for solutions: recycling of plastics with enzymes” – Prof John McGeehan

John is a Professor of Structural Biology focused on the global challenge of plastic pollution and leads a team of scientists researching natural enzyme discovery and engineering. Their work revealed the detailed workings of an enzyme that can digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and more recently, demonstrated that engineering these enzymes can increase the speed of breakdown. Found in single-use drinks bottles, packaging, clothing and carpets, PET can take centuries to decompose, and together with other plastics, is accumulating in our environment at a staggering rate. A biological catalyst that can break PET down into its original building blocks opens new opportunities for recycling towards a circular plastics economy.
Their work on PET-digesting enzymes has been widely covered in the media following two key papers in 2018 and 2020 in the journal PNAS, and the project received the Times Higher Education STEM Research Project of the Year in 2019. The group is rapidly expanding due to a £6 million grant from Research England which has allowed the recruitment of 15 additional researchers for the new Centre for Enzyme Innovation (www.port.ac.uk/cei). The focus of the group remains the engineering of biological catalysis for the breakdown of a wide range of natural and synthetic polymers. The group recently joined the BOTTLE (www.BOTTLE.org) consortium which offers new opportunities for true interdisciplinary research across the diverse areas required to tackle the global plastic pollution crisis.

John graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1993, with a BSc (Hons) degree in Microbiology, before going on to complete a PhD in Virology at the MRC Virology Unit, Glasgow. His research career continued at the University of York, before joining the University of Portsmouth in 2000, working on DNA-binding proteins. In 2005, he completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship with the EMBL-Grenoble, France, researching crystallography at the large European synchrotron. In 2007, he re-joined the University of Portsmouth as an RCUK Fellow, was appointed to Reader in 2012 and Professor in 2016. He founded the Centre for Enzyme Innovation in 2019 as Director.

Mon 7th June 7.30pm “What is Blockchain?” – Walid Al Saqqaf

Blockchain often confused with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is a new technology that is increasingly being used, within an enterprise context, in industries all around the world. From trade finance, to insurance, to supply chains, banking, pharma, food & agriculture and much more. This talk will explain what is blockchain, its disruptive potential and why it is often described as a trust foundational layer for the creation of new business models.

Walid Al Saqqaf has been a Financial Technology specialist for over 20 years. He has created 7 technology startups, the latest of which, Rebalance Earth uses blockchain technology to fight climate change and regenerate biodiversity. His podcast at Insureblocks.com has over 160 interviews with blockchain pioneers across industries and jurisdiction. He is the proud father of two young daughters.

Mon 3rd May 7.30pm “5G and the Internet of Everything” – William Vine

We’ve had mobile phones for nearly 35 years. Why do we need ‘another’ G? How 5G be any different to the others? Will connecting ‘Things’ to the internet over 5G deliver the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Originally a chemist, William has worked in mobile technology for over 20 years. He has an eclectic interest in science communication and the history of science.

Mon 5th April 7.30pm “Cells & immunity” – Andrew Seber

How do human cells make immunity possible? Why are mutations important? What are B cells and T cells? Andrew Seber recaps and builds on his June 2020 talk on the basics of immunity, using his teaching experience to explain the background to a subject that has dominated the news for the past year. 

This is a follow on talk from last year’s “What is immunity” 

Mon 1st March 7.30pm “Science in the time of Covid, stories of palaeontology in peculiar times” Dr Neil Gostling

Neil Gostling is Lecturer in Evolution and Palaeobioloy in the School of Biological Sciences, and the University of Southampton. Over the last year, he, and his students and colleagues have had to adapt to the global situation, but science hasn’t stopped, and neither has he. A new dinosaur (or 2); and a new understanding of mammalian physiology at the groups appearance, are just two of the things he will discuss in his talk.

When he is not working on dinosaurs or stem mammals, Neil is the programme leader for the Zoology degree programme, and the MRes Evolution, from the Galapagos to the 21st Century. This exciting programme takes students to the Galapagos, and explores evolutionary processes across 9 Schools’ at the University of Southampton, from Biology to engineering, medicine to philosophy. Evolution underpins the science of biology.

Mon 1st February 7.30pm “Winchester College – historic science books”

The Fellows’ Library of Winchester College was established at the beginning of the 15th century. The collections include many scientific works, from medieval manuscripts of the works of Roger Bacon, to first editions of Kepler, Hooke and Newton. This talk, given by Richard Foster (Fellows’ Librarian) and Sarah Griffin (Assistant Curator), will explore some of the highlights.

Info on the Fellows’ Library: https://www.winchestercollege.org/explore/archives-libraries-treasury/fellows-library – details of how to search the collection under ‘Catalogues’ at the end.

Info on Treasury (the school’s museum): https://treasury.winchestercollege.org

A recently published book about the College’s collections: https://treasury.winchestercollege.org/new-design/pages/forms/50-treasures-of-winchester-college-order-form-

Information on some highlights of the Science School collection: http://winchestercollections.co.uk/?collection_cat=science-collection

Mon 4th January 7.30pm “AI and Big Data” – Ajit Jaokar

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the science of making computer systems smart, and an umbrella term for a range of technologies that carry out functions that typically require intelligence in humans. AI technologies already support many everyday products and services, and the power and reach of these technologies are advancing at pace.

Ajit’s  work spans research, entrepreneurship and academia relating to artificial intelligence (AI) with Edge Computing, 5G and Cybersecurity. He is the course director of the course: Artificial Intelligence: Cloud and Edge Implementations at the University of Oxford. Besides this, he also conducts, amongst others, the University of Oxford courses: AI for Cybersecurity and Computer Vision.

Ajit works as a Data Scientist through his company feynlabs – focusing on building innovative early stage AI prototypes for domains such as cybersecurity, robotics and healthcare. He is also currently working on a book to teach AI using mathematical foundations at high school level.

His PhD research is based on AI and Affective Computing (how AI interprets emotion).
Ajit has contributed to the World Economic Forum and  the European Parliament on technology and AI themes.