Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Free lunchtime lectures across the street

Practical information
Time and location: 1.15–1.55pm, Darwin Lecture Theatre, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT. Map to Darwin Lecture Theatre.
Admission: Free without a ticket. No need to book. Open to staff, students and the general public.
Contact: UCL Events Team +44 (0)20 7679 7675

Refreshments: On sale outside the lecture theatre, or bring your own.

Thursday 11 October Lousy Tale of the Naked Ape
Professor Robin Weiss (UCL Immunology & Molecular Pathology)
Although human DNA is 98 per cent similar to that of the chimpanzee, the infections we catch are 80 per cent different. Most are new acquisitions that we have picked up as humans spread across the world. In fact, pandemic infections like smallpox and influenza only date from the last 12,000 years or so after we formed settled farming communities and later developed large colonies known as cities. Does the history of infectious diseases help to predict future epidemics?

Tuesday 16 October 2007 Science in an Age of Delusions: Some Examples from Scientific Fraud, Quackery, Religion and University Politics
Professor David Colquhoun (UCL Pharmacology)We have seen a progressive erosion of the enlightenment values which form the very basis of science. The fashion for delusional thinking is already widespread among the general public and politicians. It has penetrated even into universities as power inexorably moves from academics to managers. Francis Wheen has suggested that this step backward towards the dark ages started to become fashionable in about 1979. The more interesting question is, when will it end?

Thursday 18 October 2007 Physical Fitness: Population Trends and Why They Matter
Professor Bruce Lynn (UCL Physiology)
Fitness, particularly aerobic endurance fitness, is an excellent predictor of future health. As a population, are we getting less fit as we get more fat? The information we have indicates that this is the case, but the data are fragmentary. How easy would it be to hold a regular national fitness survey? I will discuss how this could inform national fitness targets, shed light on the true state of the nation’s fitness and change our behaviour.

Tuesday 23 October 2007 How Russia Really Works
Dr Alena Ledeneva (UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies)
In a 1939 broadcast, Churchill told his audience: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Communism has long gone but is Russia becoming more transparent? My recent book ‘How Russia Really Works’ presents a new approach to answering this question. Rather than looking at what does not work in Russia and why, I concentrate on what does work and how. By analysing post-Soviet politics and business from the perspective of informal practices, I discover rarely visible forms of activity and dispel a number of commonly held stereotypes about corruption and illegality.

Thursday 25 October 2007 Sound Effects in Homer
Dr Stephen Instone (UCL Greek & Latin)
Homer was an oral poet. When he sang the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ he relied on his memory rather than a written text. This method of producing poetry explains some features of Homeric epic, such as repetition, alliteration and metrical patterns. But does it mean that Homer never accommodates sound to sense in the way Virgil does – using fast-moving patterns to imitate speed, repetition of ‘s’ for hissing snakes, and so on? Scholars disagree on the extent to which Homer consciously strove to create with his words and rhythms sound effects relevant to the sense. This lecture, drawing on Homer’s Greek and English translations, will explore the issue.

Tuesday 30 October 2007 Symmetry and the Monster
Professor Mark Ronan (UCL Mathematics)
On 30 May 1830 a young Frenchman named Évariste Galois lay dying in a field outside Paris, fatally wounded in a duel. The previous night, he had written a letter he knew would be his last, summarising his mathematical work. Galois was just 20, but his use of symmetry to study equations has made him immortal. He started something that eventually led to the basic building blocks of symmetry. The quest to find them all produced a beautiful and mysterious object that lives in 196,884 dimensions, and may be connected with the very fabric of our universe. It is called the Monster.

Thursday 1 November 2007 Victims or Saviours – Can Plants Protect Us Against Global Warming?
Dr Astrid Wingler (UCL Biology)
Plants produce the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat. By assimilating carbon dioxide, they dampen the current rise in carbon dioxide concentration and thereby global warming. To predict future changes, it is important to investigate how plants are affected by elevated carbon dioxide concentrations and by increased temperatures. Can enhanced plant growth counteract global warming or will global warming lead to the extinction of plant species? Can we offset our carbon emissions by planting trees or is it better to invest in new technologies for the production of biofuels? These and similar questions will be addressed in the lecture.

Tuesday 13 November 2007 The ‘Steam Intellect Society’ and the Founders of UCL
Professor Rosemary Ashton (UCL English Language & Literature)
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, caricatured as the ‘Steam Intellect Society’ in Thomas Love Peacock’s comic novel ‘Crotchet Castle’ (1831), was founded in 1826 by Henry Brougham and a group of influential Whig and radical friends. Many of the group were involved in establishing UCL at the same time, among them James Mill, Zachary Macaulay, Lord John Russell and George Birkbeck. The Society exploited contemporary advances in printing technology and distribution to publish cheap, entertaining, informative works for the masses. How successful was it in its aims? What further connections are there to early UCL?

Thursday 15 November 2007 Creation and Evolution in the Universe: from the Vast Simplicity of Pure Energy to the Tiny Complexity of the Human Brain
Dr Francisco Diego (UCL Physics & Astronomy)
How old is the universe? Is there an eternal creator? The human mind has always faced the deep mysteries of existence, from primitive myths and religious beliefs to the discoveries of modern science. The universe appears to be evolving from a distant primordial event. The broad perspective of a linear timeline illustrates how vital that seemingly eternal evolution was to the universe’s development of its most complex structure: a bio-chemical organism that – despite its physical insignificance – has been able to show awareness and emotions, and to question and explore the very universe that created it.

Tuesday 20 November 2007 Too Many Men – a Time Bomb for China?
Dr Therese Hesketh (UCL Institute of Child Health)
A combination of traditional preference for male offspring, easy access to sex-selective technologies and the One Child Policy has led to abnormal sex ratios in China. Over the next 20 years it is estimated that 12–15 per cent of all young men in mainland China will remain single and will be unable to have families. The overwhelming majority of them will be of low socio-economic class. This talk will discuss the impact of this phenomenon. It will emphasise concerns about the marginalisation of these young men in society, leading to antisocial behaviour and violence, and threatening societal stability and security.

Thursday 22 November 2007 Using People’s Names to Infer Their Origins – Implications for Academia, Government and Commerce
Professor Richard Webber (UCL Geography)
Passing a list of names through an expert system, one can now establish the ancestral origins of their bearers, often right down to specific towns. Coding names on telephone files and electoral registers by their origins reveals interesting insights on migration patterns both within and between countries. By coding the names of their service users, government organisations now monitor the effectiveness of their diversity policies and businesses establish which minorities buy which products and services. This lecture summarises the methods used to infer origins from names and presents eye-opening research findings.

Tuesday 27 November 2007 Fair Health: Health Inequities Within and Between Countries – A Global Challenge
Professor Sir Michael Marmot (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health)
The 20th century has seen impressive gains in health and life expectancy in many parts of the world – but these improvements are unequally distributed. In every country, poor people and those from socially disadvantaged groups get sicker and die sooner than people in more privileged social positions. Not only is there a gap in health between the best-off and the worst-off in society, there is a gradient in health running between them. This gradient can be linked clearly to social and economic conditions. The Commission on Social Determinants of Health was set up by the World Health Organisation to collate global evidence, raise societal debate and recommend policies with the goal of improving the health of the world’s most vulnerable people. This lecture will review the compelling case for action.

Thursday 29 November 2007 How the Zebra Got Its Stripes – Getting to the Heart of Pattern Formation
Dr Andrea Sella (UCL Chemistry)
To a chemist, one of the many intriguing features of biology is the exquisite ability of biological systems to control pattern formation – from the stripes on the side of a zebra to the feathers of birds – and the extraordinary silicate architectures of diatoms, biological systems display spectacular examples of structural control across a wide range of scales. To do this, organisms have harnessed chemical processes in a remarkable way. In this lecture, I will use a number of chemical reactions to illustrate these ideas. If all goes well, we may even bring an inorganic system to life. No mention will be made of the periodic table and no chemical background is necessary.

Tuesday 4 December 2007 Law and the Millennium Development Goals: Like Water in Marriage?
Professor William Twining (UCL Laws)
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are an important part of the campaign “to make poverty history”. What has law to do with this, except perhaps to serve as a brake on development? What can law contribute to universal primary education, infant mortality, clean water, or adult literacy? At first sight, not much. This lecture will examine obvious and not-so-obvious ways in which law may assist or frustrate the MDGs with special reference to poverty reduction strategies in Uganda and Tanzania.

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