Research Talks

All members of Darwin are encouraged to present their research at informal seminars held on Tuesdays and Thursdays during term. Everyone is welcome, whatever your degree or discipline.

Darwin members pick up lunch from 12:00, taking it into the Richard King Room (on the left at the top of the stairs leading to the dining hall) or 1 Newnham Terrace (straight through at the far end of the dining hall). Wine is served. Non-Darwin members are welcome to attend, although lunch is only available to guests of members. The talk begins at about 1:15 and lasts for about 20 minutes and is followed by questions over coffee. We adjourn at 2:00pm at the latest.

Upcoming Talks

Thursday 26 April 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Ms Beverly McCann, MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit, University of Cambridge

Mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have been linked to mitochondrial diseases. In the majority of patients affected by these diseases, the pathogenic mutation is present in a heteroplasmic state; whereby mutant and wild-type mtDNA co-exist. The proportion of mutant mtDNA dictates the penetrance and severity of the disease. 
Currently there is no treatment for mitochondrial diseases. The current options to prevent transmission of diseases caused by mtDNA mutations, are genetic counseling and pre-implantation diagnosis. However, potential approaches for targeting the mutations that cause mtDNA diseases could rely upon methods of removing the mutated mtDNA, such as mitochondrial replacement techniques or selective degradation of pathogenic mtDNA by use of designer engineered nucleases. In the latter approach, DNA double strand breaks introduced by targeting pairs of mutant-specific engineered nucleases lead to degradation of the mutated mtDNA subpopulation.
Using a mouse model of mitochondrial disease that harbors a heteroplasmic point mutation, we aim to selectively eliminate mutated mtDNA in mouse embryos by using mitochondrially targeted engineered nucleases. This approach could be used to prevent germline transmission of mtDNA diseases.

Tuesday 1 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Karoliina Pulkkinen (HPS)

A.E.Arppe (1818-1890) was a professor of chemistry and a rector of the of Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki, the new capital of the Great Duchy of Finland. In the course of his rectorship, Arppe commissioned a new chemical laboratory for the University. Built at a time of a famine that killed 1/10th of population of the Duchy, this venetian-style building – now known as Arppeanum – was both admired for its beauty and criticised for its lavishness.

In this talk, I adopt Arppe and the chemical laboratory as my focal points for examining languages in chemistry in 19th century Finland. I argue that Arppe’s command of several languages and his successful navigation of the language politics of the Great Duchy of Finland allowed him to improve the conditions of chemistry at home.

After the Finnish war, Finland became part of Russian Empire, making Finnish the majority language within a formerly Swedish area. However, Swedish remained the language of educated elite throughout 19th Century. The students of chemistry were expected to master not only Swedish and some Russian, but also English, German, French and Latin (Enkvist 1972, 22). Arppe’s knowledge of languages paved his way to the most influential laboratories in Europe. Upon his return back home, it came clear that he also had a good command of languages in another sense: Arppe’s intricate balancing of the language conflict in Finland meant that he secure a favourable position under the Russian authorities, and a push for a laboratory inspired by the European facilities he had visited.

Thursday 3 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Mr. Adam Boyce, Centre for Micromechanics, Cambridge University Engineering Department

Hybrid materials typically comprise two or more materials and span from foams and lattices, to fibre reinforced composites. From the naturally occurring bone, wood or bird’s wings, to man-made aerogel and metal or polymer foams, hybrid material are ubiquitous in nature. Design of hybrid materials involves careful selection of material and topology to generate a structurally efficient, low-density material enabling gaps to be filled in material space. The primary goal of this research is the design of such a material and in particular, a hybrid material containing polymer foam. The specific desired properties of such a material should include superior energy absorption capabilities giving improvement of the indentation and impact resistance of the foam. These new materials will find applications in a myriad of industries; automotive, aerospace, and marine as well as sporting and military applications. Specific applications may include helmets, and panels in cars, boats and aircraft which are susceptible to impact.

Tuesday 8 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Prof David Catling (University of Washington)

Abstract not available

Thursday 10 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr William Alston, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge

Black holes are the most extreme objects found in the universe. They provide a one-way passage to the unknown, places where our understanding of physics breaks down. Pioneering work over the last century has transformed black holes from theoretical curiosities, into the domain of the observational astronomer. These gravitational monsters reside in the centre of all galaxies in the universe, and are intimately linked to the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies we observe today. Despite their enormous size, our current telescopes are unable to spatially resolve them on the sky. We therefore resort to indirect methods to zoom in on the region directly around the black hole. In this talk, I will describe current efforts to spatially map the gas in the immediate vicinity of a black hole as it spirals down the deep gravitational potential well. These observations provide us with information about the two fundamental properties of black holes: their mass and spin.

Tuesday 15 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Christopher Day (Dept. of Land Economy)

"The ravages of two world wars and advantages attainable from a united Europe resulted in a continuous process of economic and political union in the half century following the Second World War. By the end of the 20th Century, this culminated in the establishment of the European Central Bank and Euro currency. Despite the enormous benefits associated with the formation of the European Monetary Union (EMU), critics of the EMU outlined numerous deficiencies which were rapidly brought to light during the 2010 European debt crisis. Furthermore, European cohesion policies seeking to balance economic growth, development and competitiveness across the European Union remain largely ineffectual given the fundamental structural inadequacies of the EMU which lacks fiscal federalism in the absence of a floating exchange rate mechanism. This dissertation seeks to identify the degree to which the EMU distorted currency values and determine whether these distortions are contributing to the spatial disparities in economic growth and development found across Europe with particular attention being paid to the North-South divide. It is argued that cohesion policy will continue to be undermined until the distortions in national competitiveness are fully addressed.

Thursday 17 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Mr Robert Hickman, Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience, Univesity of Cambridge

Every action we make relies on us appropriately assigning value to different options. Such value signals have been found in the brain and are the key drivers of every single decision, from staying at DarBar for one last drink, to pursuing a PhD. However, neurons encode values subjectively, often in a manner that is not obviously related to the objective qualities of those rewards; a small, simple diamond may be worth as much as a house.

In this talk, I will explain how this has hindered our ability to decode these fundamental neuronal signals and present an auction task for the measurement of a monkey’s subjective values for rewards within individual decisions. By allowing for the association of behaviour and neuronal signals with unprecedented temporal precision, we may gain greater insight into the neuronal ‘black box’ which underlies the choices we make in everyday life.

Tuesday 22 May 2018
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Anthony Hotson (Centre for Financial History and Darwin College)

The global economy has recovered from the credit crunch of 2008, but the medicine prescribed by central bankers has left us with excessive debts and growing inequality. Proponents of tighter regulation remain fearful that initial intentions will be watered down, leaving the door open to speculative excesses and further market turmoil. Ten years on from the last crisis, our prospects do not look particularly promising.
In my short talk, I shall describe two principles of sound banking practice, developed in the late nineteenth century, that helped to stabilise London’s money and credit markets. These principles informed a range of market practices that limited aggressive forms of funding and discouraged speculative lending. A tendency to downplay the importance of these regulatory practices encouraged a degree of complacency about their removal in the 1970s and 1980s. I shall argue that these principles need to be reapplied if the vulnerability of credit markets is to be addressed.

Past Research Talks

Thursday 15 March 2018
Dr Jenna Dittmar, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge

The presence of disease in past populations was affected by numerous factors, many of which were not uniformly experienced by members of society. By considering the heterogeneous nature of the inhabitants of Medieval towns, a more nuanced picture of how diseases affected societies can be created. The human skeletal remains from five burial sites located in and around Cambridge were analysed to discover how the inhabitants of that unique urban environment were affected by disease. In addition to substantial evidence of infectious disease, a surprisingly high prevalence rate of gout was identified, as were multiple cases of cancer. The aim of this talk is to contextualise these findings by exploring the factors that contributed to the presence of these diseases within Cambridge.

Tuesday 13 March 2018
Dr Dan Jones, British Antarctic Survey

The threat posed by climate change has sparked an energetic, ongoing dialogue that has permeated into nearly every academic discipline. In this short talk, I will attempt to gauge the current state of various academic, political, and social aspects of this conversation, from the vantage point of a physical scientist. For instance, I will address the possible long-term implications of the recent dramatic shift in US energy policy on global climate.

Thursday 8 March 2018
Dr Max Holloway, British Antarctic Survey

The cryosphere has a significant influence on global climate; sea ice is an important amplifier in the climate system and meltwater from polar ice sheets influences ocean circulation and the associated sea level rise directly affects coastal populations. However, future model projections of Antarctic Ice Sheet and sea ice change are highly uncertain. Our understanding of the long term (i.e. beyond the satellite era) interplay between ice sheets, sea ice and the climate system can be improved by examining how these systems responded during a range of past climates. In particular, the last interglacial (LIG; 130,000 to 115,000 years ago) allows investigation of the ice sheet and sea ice response to warmer than present conditions – similar to those projected for coming centuries.

This talk will demonstrate the combined use of climate model simulations and Antarctic ice core and marine core data to better interpret past climate change. Novel methods of data-model comparison, focussing on the LIG Antarctic climate optimum (~128,000 years ago), are used to assess the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and Southern Hemisphere sea ice. We show that an early collapse of the WAIS is not consistent with Antarctic ice core data. Instead, a major retreat of Southern Hemisphere sea ice best explains the ice and marine core data. By optimizing the model-data agreement, we suggest that sea ice retreat was greatest in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean and weakest in the Pacific sector. Further model investigation indicates that changes in global heat transport, in response to melting Northern Hemisphere ice sheets during the proceeding deglaciation, likely caused heat build-up in the South Atlantic, leading to sea ice retreat and substantial Antarctic warming. These conditions may have led to a collapse of the WAIS and sea ice build-up later during the LIG.

Tuesday 6 March 2018
Dr Stephanie Diepeveen, Department of Politics and International Studies

Postcolonial politics in Kenya has been dominated by protracted and tense ethnic, religious and regional divisions, brought to the fore with the contentious presidential elections in August and October 2017. Dominant discourses within the country present politics as a zero sum game, in which the same individuals and ethnic groups continually benefit. Equally, while politics appears as a zero sum and predicable game, Kenya espouses a vibrant and engaged citizenry that is knowledgeable and interested in public affairs. Debates over electoral politics and the actions of elected leaders unfold, within and outside of elections, in diverse and informal spaces in everyday life, from street corners and markets, to illicit drinking dens, to online forums such as social media groups. Thus, on one side, there appears to be an active, engaged and critical public sphere in Kenya. On the other side, these active discussions seem to do little to alter the overriding interpretation of politics along ethnic lines. Why does Kenya’s public sphere seem unable to alter the terms of political debate, despite its vibrancy and diversity across physical and online spaces? This seminar examines the nature, rhythm and people involved in daily public discussion across different media, interrogating how they relate to the potential for continuity and change in the terms of political debate. It argues for very different reasons, the features of debate in physical spaces and on social media have both developed in ways that frustrate the emergence of new and shared ideas.

Thursday 1 March 2018
Mr Rohan Eapen, Department of Pharmacology, University of Cambridge

In 1928, Alexander Fleming famously discovered what was to be the 'miracle drug', penicillin. Fast forward 90 years to the present day, we still find penicillin and its derivatives widely used in the clinic today. However, one major problem that is beginning to come to light is the widespread emergence of antibiotic resistance. As such, the World Health Organistation have declared research into novel antibiotics and diagnostic tools of paramount importance to our future. In search of a suitable drug target, Lipoteichoic acid Synthase (LtaS), an extracellular protein has been identified as a suitable candidate for a drug discovery campaign. Here, I describe our methodology for the identification and characterisation of small-molecule LtaS inhibitors that have been generated using a virtual screening approach. These compounds were able to act upon Gram-positive bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), rendering them inactive and unable to survive.

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