2022 Archive

See youtube.com/WinchesterCafeScientifique for recordings of online talks

Mon 5th December 7.30pm “The Maths that made us” – Michael Brooks

Michael Brooks is a bestselling science writer, the author of The Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook and co-host of the Eureka podcast with Rick Edwards.

Praised as ‘a wonder’ by Tim Harford, his book The Maths That Made Us, is a fascinating journey through the history of civilisation that shows why maths is fundamental to our understanding of the world.

Michael has the power to change how a whole room feels about maths, and can deliver an entertaining talk where he reveals the fascinating stories from the book – like how accounting started the French Revolution or how calculus won the Allies the Second World War – inspiring a new love and appreciation of maths for those who think they hate it.

The Maths that Made Us comes out in September

Mon 7th November 7.30pm “How vaccines work, and how we test them” – Alasdair Munro

NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility – a partnership between UHS and the University of Southampton has been a crucial partner in the nationwide COVID-19 response, delivering the highest number of COVID-19 studies across all acute NHS trusts.

The Clinical Research Facility (CRF) created a dedicated vaccine trials centre within a locked-down university sports hall in just four days, opened a study of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine within a week and, by August 2020, had recruited almost 700 people to early phase trials of the vaccine.

Dr Aasdair Munro is a senior clinical research fellow in paediatric infectious diseases at the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility. He helps design and lead early and late phase clinical trials of different vaccines including COV-BOOST, the world’s biggest randomised controlled trial of booster vaccines for COVID-19.

Mon 3rd October 7.30pm Drs Shelley Duncan & Emma Mosley “The Mind-Body Connection….What is Psychophysiology?”

Why does a psychophysiological approach to research give us more meaningful information about the relationship of how the mind and body work together to produce what we see in behaviour.

Shelley is a research fellow (PhD) within the Faculty of Sport, Health and Social Sciences Her area of expertise is within the field of cognitive neuroscience, specifically in the use of electroencephalography to evaluate the relationship between electrical activity of the brain and behaviour. Shelley’s PhD was completed at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia, which involved the evaluation of the influence of acute bouts of exercise (aerobic and resistance) on cognitive function, including both behavioural (task completion time) and electro-cortical patterns of activity during the performance of a locomotive dual-task paradigm.

Shelley’s background also includes completion of a Bachelor of Physical Education and Health, Postgraduate Diploma in Exercise Rehabilitation, and an MSc (first-class honours) which evaluated the influence of glycogen depletion and fatigue on visual performance, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Shelley’s key areas of interest are the development of research paradigms that will enable the evaluation of cognitive function in a more real world context, specifically within the area of human spatial navigation across the lifespan, and the assessment of the influence of exercise interventions upon cognitive function.

Emma is a  sport psychology researcher interested in heart rate variability as a self regulation marker. 

Mon 5th September 7.30pm Richard Beake “Nuclear fusion and the quest for Net Zero electricity”

We have a slowly deepening energy crisis which has become much more pressing since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The fundamental premise of our national electricity supply has been turned on its head but few people fully realise the implications. I will briefly describe some of the strategic issues facing us as the UK moves towards a Net Zero energy system and then mention some of the technology challenges to be addressed in the next few years. Finally, I will look forward to a possible future system including the ‘holy grail’ of energy, fusion power, and summarise the current status and hopes for fusion.

Richard Beake is a Civil Engineer with a Masters in soil mechanics from Imperial College. In a career spanning over 40 years, He has worked on projects in 20 countries, including civil infrastructure, water and wastewater, petrochemicals, oil and gas, power generation, nuclear power and nuclear decommissioning. For the past six years he has been an independent consultant, written extensively on energy policy and is a Director of General Fusion UK Ltd.

Mon 1st August 7.30pm “Learning from accidents: railway signalling in the UK” – Dr Robin Wilson

Trains are one of the safest ways to travel, but it hasn’t always been like that. In this talk I will introduce the basics of railway signalling, and look at how it has evolved over time – often in response to accidents and near-misses. You will find out how a single stray wire caused an accident that killed 35 people, why leaves on the line cause such a problem for the railways, and how signalling systems are designed to deal with the inevitable human error. Examples of accidents from the 1870s to the 2010s will be used, and signalling in the local area will be described.

Dr Robin Wilson has a PhD in satellite imaging and complex systems simulation from the University of Southampton, during which he developed a new method for monitoring air quality from high-resolution satellite images. After completing his PhD, he worked as an academic for a number of years, on projects including extending his PhD work, and monitoring population movement after disasters from mobile phone data. He is now a freelancer in geographic data analysis and related software development, currently working with clients including Anglo American (a multinational mining company), Satellogic (an Argentinian satellite company) and the UK Navy. He gives talks on a range of topics to schools and science groups around the country, and has been given multiple ‘best talk’ awards. He has a wide range of interests and expertise alongside his professional area of specialism, including UK railways (particularly their signalling systems), nuclear power and space missions.

Mon 4th July 7.30pm “Setting course for zero-carbon shipping” – Dr Laurie Wright – Southampton Solent University

While shipping is the most efficient mode of transport per distance travelled, if the carbon emissions from the shipping industries were combined this would rank as the sixth biggest country for emissions in the world.  Until recently shipping has been largely absent from discussions on tackling climate change and air pollution. Now, policy makers, operators, owners, and others in the maritime industry are starting to take action.

Solent University is part of a research and innovation collaboration  to look at the options for green technology in the maritime industry. The ultimate goal is the introduction of low-carbon shipping technologies in a very conservative sector. This project will pilot the following:

  • Construction of a CTV (crew transfer vessel) with hydrogen propulsion.
  • Retrofitting of a barge with a hydrogen-based propulsion system.
  • Construction of a new passenger vessel with hydrogen propulsion system.
  • Installation of hybrid configuration in a small inspection vessel.
  • Development of a hydrogen fuel cell module for use in various types of ships.
  • Concept of hydrogen bunker facilities for a port.

Dr Laurie Wright is an Associate Professor of Marine Sustainability and founding director of the Centre for Marine Sustainability at Solent University. An expert in maritime decarbonisation, he leads a multidisciplinary team delivering research and innovation to understand and address the global challenges facing our oceans. Taking a systems approach, research in the Centre is discovering clean alternatives to fossil fuels used in ships, investigating the impacts of marine pollution, and studying the safety of those working at sea.

Mon 6th June 7.30pm “I Contain Multitudes’ – The surprising world of microscopic biofilms” – Dr Joe Parker

If I ask you to imagine a bacterial colony, you’d probably picture some jellybean-looking bacterial cells, floating about in an unspecified liquid, or possibly spreading out on a Petri dish. We readily picture these occurring in human habitats, or animals, or toilets (but rarely petrol tanks, or icecaps, or mineshafts). It’s a common image but as misleading as the idea that planets orbit in perfect circles. Nearly two decades of research have revealed the truth, and we’re still uncovering more surprises.

In fact, most of the ~1030 bacteria on Earth live, not floating in fluids in humans or a toilet or water-pipe but in bacterial biofilms, with the vast mass resident in the deep oceans, soil, sediment and rocks of the Earth. Within these biofilms, bacteria for dense, specialised, three-dimensional communities  comprising many species capable of pooling resources and communicating. Even closer to home, bacterial biofilms offer their residents protection from many of the antibiotics and cleaning agents we try and dislodge them with, causing deaths and disease, spoiling food, and wrecking or contaminating industrial processes.

I’ll give you a whistlestop tour through this fascinating, unseen world, and explain how our newest work is rewriting the rules for biofilms again, offering tantalising hints at a level of bacterial communication we never even imagined.

Dr. Parker joined the National Biofilms Innovation Centre’s Southampton University group in 2018 shortly after its formation. He is developing lab techniques, statistical methods, and software to exploit portable, real-time DNA sequencing for biofilm microbial community analyses. These will enable non-experts with minimal equipment to explore these ubiquitous microcosms’ composition, evolution and ecology, rapidly, anywhere on the planet. During the COVID-19 pandemic he served on secondment to the Department for Health & Social Care, designing and commissioning a novel, highly-automated testing lab capable of processing tens of thousands of samples daily.

Previously he has held an independent Early-Career Research Fellowship at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (where he published the first-ever demonstration of congeneric species ID by genome-scale DNA sequencing in the field), and Queen Mary, University of London, where he published the first-ever detection of adaptive molecular convergent evolution (in Nature).

He is a Fellow of the Software Sustainability Institute, and Stipendiary Lecturer in Statistics and Modelling at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.

Mon 2nd May Bank Holiday No Talk

Mon 4th April 2022 7.30pm “Humans and Animals in Roman Winchester and Beyond” Prof Mark Maltby

There were significant changes in how animals were exploited in Roman Britain. The study of animal bones from sites of this period along with other archaeological evidence has shed new light on diets, husbandry practices, butchery methods and the ritual use of animals.  This talk will focus on some of these developments focusing particularly on zooarchaeological evidence from Winchester and other sites in southern England.

I graduated in Prehistory and Archaeology at the University of Sheffield; I was a Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Southampton for 13 years and have been a lecturer at Bournemouth University for over 30 years. My major research interests revolve around zooarchaeology. I have carried out a large numbers of research programmes on sites of all periods from the Mesolithic onwards, both in Britain and Europe, as far east as Russia and as far south as Malta. I have particular interests in how zooarchaeology can be incorporated into studies of Roman and medieval towns. I have published widely on human-animal relationships in Iron Age and Roman Britain. I have specific interests and resultant publications on the history of butchery practices, the use of salt in preserving meat, and the exploitation of birds. 


Mon 7th March 2022 7.30pm “Research into battery storage technology” Prof Peter Slater

Lithium ion batteries are ubiquitous in our society and their uptake was initially driven by the portable electronic revolution. Future uses of such batteries will dramatically increase with the transition to electric vehicles, as well as the need for large scale energy storage for domestic and commercial applications. In this talk, I will outline how Li ion batteries work, and discuss some of the challenges researchers are facing. In particular, the dramatic increase in their usage will have an impact on the supply of the elements needed, and so I will outline strategies to mitigate this. In this respect recycling will be crucial for recovering and then reusing the valuable metals from these batteries at the end of their usable life. Of additional importance will be to replace some of the metals used, in particular cobalt, by cheaper metals so as to bring down costs and reduce supply chain challenges. Finally I will discuss what future generation batteries might look like, outlining what is being investigated to increase the amount of energy that can be stored in these batteries, and alternative Sodium ion batteries which offer lower cost particularly for stationary power applications.

Professor Peter R. Slater is Professor in Materials Chemistry at the University of Birmingham and Co-Director of the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage. He has more than 30 years research experience in the area of solid state/materials chemistry, ranging from battery materials to solid oxide fuel cells. In these areas he has published more than 250 papers in scientific journals, and has written more than 20 review articles. His present research is focusing mainly on the development of ionic and mixed conductors for energy storage and conversion applications (e.g. Li/Na ion batteries and solid oxide fuel cells), as well as strategies for recycling such materials. 

He is also active in promoting research into new energy technologies in schools, and to general non-scientific audiences.

Mon 7th February 2022 7.30pm “The Cultured Chimpanzee” Dr Mimi Arandjelovic

The evolutionary-ecological drivers that have generated the behavioral diversity in chimpanzee populations are still largely unknown. Progress towards a better understanding of these diversification processes is currently constrained by the small number of field sites at which chimpanzees are studied. Potential explanatory variables, related to resource availability, historic landscape effects, predation and disease pressure or population inherent dynamics influencing trait invention and loss, by far exceed the number of chimpanzee communities studied.

The Pan African Programme (PanAf) ‘The Cultured Chimpanzee’ aims to overcome some of these limitations by studying a large number of populations with a cross-sectional sampling approach. It will quantify a broad spectrum of the ecological parameters that possibly contribute to generating behavioural diversity in chimpanzees and will thus also evaluate potential evolutionary scenarios to decipher central questions of human cultural evolution.

I am a biologist whose research has primarily focused on primate genetics, molecular ecology and conservation biology. My current role as co-director of the Pan African Programme : The Cultured Chimpanzee (PanAf) is focused on studying chimpanzee ecology and evolution from all four Pan troglodytes subspecies from over 40 temporary research sites across Africa. 

My doctoral and post-doctoral research focused on developing precise and accurate methods of monitoring great apes. As most primates tend to live in low visibility environments, are cryptic and are generally sparsely distributed it has been very difficult to obtain population estimates for almost all great ape subspecies.

My current research focus is on developing cheaper and more efficient means of using non-invasive samples for genetic amplification to use in biomonitoring activities and assess the potential of using conservation genomics from fecal samples to better understand the evolutionary trajectories of great apes.

Mon 3rd January 2022 7.30pm “Life is simple” – Prof Johnjoe McFadden

How Occam’s Razor Set Science Free And Unlocked The Universe

His new book, Life is Simple (2 September 21) highlights the role of simplicity in science, and in particular its favourite tool, Occam’s razor.  We begin in the turbulent times of the medieval friar, William of Occam, who first articulated the principle that the best answer to any problem is the simplest. This theory, known as Occam’s razor, cut through the thickets of medieval metaphysics to clear a path for modern science. In the book, Professor McFadden follows the razor in the hands of the giants of science, from Copernicus, to Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Rubin and Higgs. Its success suggests that we live in the simplest possible habitable universe and supports the revolutionary theory that our cosmos has evolved. After graduating with a degree in Biochemistry from Bedford College, University of London I went to do a Phd on fungal virus genetics working with Ken Buck at Imperial College. I then went on to my first post-doc at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School with Professor Bob Williamson on human genetics.

St Mary’s was as a terrifically stimulating environment at the time where I worked with loads of very clever people but, if the truth be told, my project didn’t go well so after a couple of years I went on to another post-doc at St. George’s Hospital Medical School to study Crohn’s disease with the surgeon John Hermon-Taylor. This went a lot better and I went on to investigate the role of mycobacteria in this disease, work which took me on to the University of Surrey where I gained a lectureship in Molecular Microbiology working first on paratuberculosis in cows and humans, then tuberculosis and meningococcal meningitis in humans. My group now specializes in using systems-based approaches to study infectious disease.

I wrote the popular science book, Quantum Evolution, published in the UK by HarperCollins in 2001, in the US by Norton in 2002 and by Kyoritsu Shuppan in Japan in 2003. The book examines the role of quantum mechanics in life, evolution and consciousness. I also write articles regularly for the Guardian newspaper in the UK on topics as varied as quantum mechanics, evolution and genetically modified crops, and occasionally review books for the Guardian. The Washington Post and Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung have also published my articles