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

Tuesday 22 January 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Petra Molnar

Artificial intelligence and automated decision-making is increasingly used in various facets of migration management. From predictions about population movements in the Mediterranean, to Canada’s experiments with the use of AI in immigration and refugee decisions, to coercive retinal scanning of refugees in Jordan, states and organizations are keen to explore the use of these new technologies, yet often fail to take into account profound human rights ramifications and real impacts on human lives.

This presentation is based on "Bots at the Gate," a report done by the University of Toronto on the use of emerging technologies in migration management and explores new mechanisms of oversight and accountability across jurisdictions. The concerns around emerging technologies force us to re-examine our assumptions, norms, and available rights-frameworks. Technology is not neutral and is a useful lens through which to examine state practices, democracy, notions of power, and accountability.

Thursday 24 January 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Robin E Morrison (Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge)

Western gorillas are one of our closest evolutionary relatives. They have a similar social structure to our own, living in family groups with overlapping ranges and therefore represent an important model system for understanding human social evolution. Despite this, very little is known about the large-scale social structure of this species. I investigated community structure in two western lowland gorilla populations visiting forest clearings in Republic of Congo, demonstrating that these populations showed a multi-level kin-based social structure, previously thought to be unique to humans within apes. I then used camera trap monitoring of gorillas across their ranges to reconstruct movement patterns, using ecological modelling to test hypotheses relating to territoriality, competition and cooperation within gorilla society. I will discuss what these findings add to our knowledge of this species and how they alter our understanding of the evolution of human social complexity and the basis on which modern human society is built.

Tuesday 29 January 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Ann Sofie Cloots

In 2018, Bitcoin prices plummeted but blockchain applications developed rapidly. Governments have stepped up enforcement actions against ICOs and crypto-exchanges. Those same governments, however, and the private sector have confidently embraced the underlying blockchain technology for a host of applications – from identity management to supply chains and financial markets. Why do cryptocurrency actors face a myriad of law suits? And why do companies and governments increasingly rely on blockchain nevertheless?
Privacy (EU GDPR) and money laundering are just some of the legal risks facing blockchain and crypto-token providers. Blockchain developers are slowly attempting to design solutions to improve legal compliance, some more successful than others.

Thursday 31 January 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Mr Antranik A. Sefilian

Observational campaigns, over the last two decades, have revealed a new mystery related to our own Solar System. As it turns out, icy bodies orbiting the Sun beyond the orbit of Neptune exhibit unexpected orbital architecture. Specifically, observations have unveiled that a subset of such small bodies - known as trans-Neptunian objects - have their orbits spatially clustered. Such spatially clustered configurations can not be explained by the current eight-planet Solar System architecture. This has led to the so-called “Planet Nine” hypothesis: a yet undiscovered super-Earth resides in the distant Solar System inducing, and maintaining, the puzzling orbital configurations.
In this talk, I will first explain the observational signatures which promoted the aforementioned “Planet Nine” hypothesis. I will then put forward an alternative which could obviate the need for “Planet Nine”. Specifically, I will demonstrate how the gravitational effects of a relatively massive population of trans-Neptunian objects can naturally provide an explanation for the observed spatial clustering.

Tuesday 5 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Satinder Gill

Moving well with someone has an aesthetic and ethical quality, be it to shake hands, dance, make music, or have a wonderful conversation. This foregrounds the relational qualities inherent in music, such as rhythm and pitch. It is proposed that pragmatic collective rhythm acts can enable us to simultaneously comprehend and engage with our differences, in ‘a personal act of knowing’. Mutual sense-making may be said to be carried by this very fine timing / synchrony that differs from the kind of continuous and stable synchrony seen in most laboratory experiments, seeming to be fragmentary whilst imbued with purpose to sustain and facilitate. In embodied improvisation, we come to know when we can change or reject the synchrony or pattern that we have found with someone without producing negative emotional or social/artistic effects. This shift is desirable, for example, for a jazz musician to find their own way distinct from a jazz master. A picture of pragmatic salient prosodic rhythms leading to climaxes (crescendos) of entrainment may be a way of considering how we are able to improvise whilst being together. Salient moments of bodily synchrony perhaps carry within them an intention to rebuild the connection even though it is mutually understood and desirable that a break of some kind is necessary for the connection to be sustained and to evolve.

Thursday 7 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Colleen Rollins (Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge)

Hallucinations involve perceptions of stimuli that do not exist in the physical world, such as hearing voices or seeing visions. Hallucinations occur not only in schizophrenia, but are experienced by people with other psychiatric disorders, neurological and neurodegenerative conditions, and among the general population. Advances in neuroimaging technology have given insights into the brain structures and functions that are associated with hallucinations, but our understanding of why people experience hallucinations remains incomplete. In this talk I will explore the brain mechanisms underlying hallucinations, the role of reality
monitoring - the cognitive capacity to distinguish between internally- and externally-generated information, and how understanding the brain basis of hallucinations can contribute to theoretical accounts of hallucinations, optimize treatment strategies, and inform how we perceive our external world and determine what is real.

Tuesday 12 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Luca Messerschmidt

Do donor countries react to aid flows of others? Are economic and political competitions between donors a reason for this strategic interaction? Through ongoing trends of Globalization and the emergence of new economies, developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are enabled to cooperate with traditional western but also new donors
like BRICS countries and specifically China. In the manner of a South-South narrative, non-DAC countries have used foreign aid to gain a significant influence and challenge the ancient foreign aid architecture. This paper aims at explaining underlying patterns of how donors react in a globalized foreign aid market. In order to measure the responsiveness
of aid allocators to external pressures, we develop a spatial lag panel model by including spatially competition-weighted lag aid shares of other donors to the same recipient country. The analyses conducted provide evidence in favor of a positive relationship between a donor’s engagement in a specific recipient country and other donors
for which this recipient is of similar strategic importance. For political competition no significant effect could be measured. The research shows heterogenous reactional patterns for different countries and might provide useful information to understand donors behavior in times of an increasingly competitive aid market and give a further clue about how donor countries interact when allocating their foreign aid resources.

Thursday 14 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Stefan Gräf

By definition a rare disease affects less than 5 in 10,000 people. An estimated 80% of these to date known 7,500 diesease are likely to have a genetic cause. Very often, however, an explanation at molecular level is missing. As part of the NIHR BioResource - Rare Diseases consortium, the pilot study of the Genomics England 100,000 genomes project, we sequenced the genomes of more than 13,000 patients diagnosed with one of 15 rare diseases. Examplified by pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare form of high blood pressure measured in the arteries of lungs, I will take you on a brief journey from the blood sample through to a molecular diagnosis which can inform clinical decision making and lead to novel treatment.

Tuesday 19 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
James Beringer

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the world’s greatest health threats. At present, 700’000 people die annually from infections that are resistant to first-line antibiotics. Global action however, has been fragmented and asymmetrical. The EU for example, has outlawed the use of certain anti-biotics in livestock, but it remains a common practice in the US – where an estimated 70% of antibiotics administered to livestock are done so in the absence of any disease, India – who’s poultry industry is notoriously unregulated, and China – the world’s largest consumer of anti-biotics. This project attempts to investigate why collective action to address the AMR issue has lacked cohesion, and to pinpoint areas that are causing the biggest obstacles to progress. It will do so by reducing AMR to its structural features, using game theory as the theoretical lens through which to frame the issue. This project combines two methodologies. Firstly, it will use data collected from the official publications of various actors involved in tackling AMR. These include the WHO, the EU, health ministries in states particularly at risk from AMR, pharmaceutical companies, and representatives from the meat industry. Secondly, it will collect data through conducting elite interviews with key individuals in various capacities in the above organisations, as well as in key pressure groups looking to raise awareness of the AMR issue.

Thursday 21 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Ms Alice Fairnie (Sainsbury Laboratory, Botanic Garden Cambridge)

Flowers show a huge diversity of colourful patterns on the surface of their petals which are thought to act as visual signals to animal pollinators. My research is exploring flower patterns: their evolution, development, and function. I work with Hibiscus which has a bullseye pattern created by combining contrasting cell types and pigmentation in the basal and distal regions of the petal.
The talk will cover the work carried out in my first six months of my PhD which focused on understanding how flower patterns form, creating Hibiscus flowers with modified patterns, and observing bumblebees interacting with flowers with different patterns.

Tuesday 26 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Thomas Maguire

Tanzania’s political, economic and social development has been the focus of numerous studies by both indigenous and foreign scholars. Nevertheless, with the exception of key incidents such as the Zanzibar Revolution and Tanganyika Rifles Mutiny of January 1964, the development of the country’s security sector in the context of state-building either side of independence is not well understood. Neither is the manner in which Tanzania’s security sector interacted with the international community during this period, whether it be the former British colonial power or other states such as Israel, the US, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, China, the Soviet Union and Cuba. This reflects a wider imbalance in Intelligence Studies towards Anglo-American and Western-centric research.

Drawing on overseas archives from the United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Germany, memoirs by former Tanzanian and Stasi officers, and interviews with former officers of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, more popularly MI6) and Security Service (MI5), this talk reveals that significant change occurred in Tanzania’s increasingly politicised and unstable security sector from independence in 1961. Mirroring more neighbouring Uganda than Kenya, Britain lost its primary security assistance role, firstly to Israel, then to a shifting consortium of the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, China and Cuba from the 1960s through to the end of the Cold War.

Dr Thomas Maguire is a Junior Research Fellow at Darwin College and the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge, where he completed his PhD in 2015, and a Teaching Fellow in the Intelligence and International Security Research Group at the Department of War Studies, King's College London. Tom is also a co-convenor of the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, teaches on the Cambridge Security Initiative’s International Security and Intelligence (ISI) specialist short-course, and was the John Garnett Visiting Fellow at the Whitehall-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) from 2014-2015.

Tom’s main ongoing project is examining the influence of the UK on the development of state security sectors in the Global South through training and assistance since 1945. This lunchtime talk focuses on one of his case studies in this project: Tanzania. Like all post-colonial states Tanzania’s political, economic and social development has been the focus of numerous studies by both indigenous and foreign scholars.

Thursday 28 February 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr George Lansbury (University of Cambridge)

A supermassive black hole lurks at the centre of possibly every galaxy, including our own Milky Way and the innumerable galaxies in the distant Universe. When these distant black holes feed on galactic material (gas, dust, and stars) they light up as “active galaxies”. The extreme brightness and energetic output of these systems, unrivalled in the Universe, is sufficient to impact the formation of the stars and galaxies around them. It also makes them readily observable with telescopes on Earth, if only as unresolved points of light on the sky. I will describe ongoing efforts and challenges in observing and understanding the active galaxy population, including the unique challenge of identifying the “hidden” population which dominates the cosmic growth of black holes.

Tuesday 5 March 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Jezebel Mansell

Sophie Calle is known for her works based around ritual (_Le Régime chromatique_ (1997), _Rituel d’anniversaire_ (1980-1993)) and absent others (_L’Hôtel_ (1981), _Le Carnet d’adresses_ (1983)). Most recently, her work has turned to the death of her father (_Beau doublé, Monsieur le marquis!_ (2017)) and the death of her cat, Souris (_Souris Calle_ (2018)), but the pullulation of exhibitions emerging in the wake of Calle’s mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer has so far been unparalleled.

My talk will examine Calle’s ongoing preoccupation with her mother’s death, looking particularly at _Rachel, Monique…_ (2017) which is the physical embodiment of the many exhibitions stemming from the final months of her mother’s life, and the aftermath of her death. It considers the extent to which the daughter’s portrayal of her mother might be doomed to failure, or even to be read as an erasure in itself. It will suggest that Calle is faced with the paradox inherent in the attempt to capture her mother’s essence, impossible to ‘solidify’, and showing itself only through ‘the flux of action and speech’ (Arendt 1998: 181). It looks at how Calle acknowledges this impossibility within her work, confronting and highlighting the difficulty of representing the other, rather than reaching towards fixed meaning and closure.

Thursday 7 March 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Ms Erin Cullen (Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge)

Darwin famously referred to the origin of flowering plants (angiosperms) as an 'abominable mystery'. Flowering plants are the most diverse group of land plants, and the ability to vary floral traits has been key to their success. One such floral innovation is the nectar spur (a tubular outgrowth of the petal which may contain nectar). Nectar spurs protect nectar from the environment and also enhance pollinator specificity, pollination efficiency and reproductive success. Despite their ecological importance, much is still unknown about the development and morphogenesis of spurs as there are no conventional model plant species which possess a nectar spur.

This project aims to probe the morphological and molecular basis of nectar spur outgrowth. To understand the basis of nectar spur outgrowth, a species which possesses a nectar spur (Linaria vulgaris) was compared to a closely related species which does not (Antirrhinum majus). A comparative transcriptome (the sum of all of the genes which are expressed by cells at that time point) was performed in order to give a global view of the genes involved in spur development and produce new candidate genes which may be involved in spur outgrowth in Linaria. Nectar spur length can be highly variable. Control of variation in nectar spur length was also investigated, focusing on two closely related species which have extremely long and short spurs respectively. A morphological characterisation was undertaken (recording cell number and cell length across a range of developmental stages) to determine whether the difference in spur length between the species is due to cell expansion or cell division. We found that primarily cell number and therefore cell division drives an increase in spur length in Linaria. This contrasts with previous studies in Aquilegia which have found that variation of nectar spur length is due to directed cell expansion over a longer timeframe. These data suggest that spurs may have evolved in different systems by disparate mechanisms.

Tuesday 12 March 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Ida Sognnaes

In order to avoid what’s been termed ‘dangerous climate change’ scholars argue we need to radically transform our economies. The emissions reductions necessary to reach internationally agreed temperature goals imply rapid technological and industrial change in the coming decades. How do we think about this problem and what analytical frameworks can we and should we use to inform decisions? The nature of climate change is such that multiple disciplines are required to analyse questions and recommend solutions. In this talk I will present some of my PhD research on integrated assessment models and their limitations for informing energy and climate change policies.

Thursday 14 March 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Jotis Baronas (Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge)

The study of rivers offers important insights into why our planet looks the way it does. The interaction of rocks with water shapes landscapes, supplies nutrients to ecosystems, and consumes atmospheric CO2. The relative stability of Earth’s climate over the past 500 million years has allowed life to flourish, and is controlled by a delicate and complex balance between tectonics, rock weathering, and the evolution of life. It is, however, punctuated by large climatic perturbations that have typically resulted in mass extinctions.

River catchments integrating over large continental areas allow us to assess the net effects of water-rock interaction on a globally significant scale. By studying world's large rivers we can therefore better understand and quantify the global importance of rock weathering and its impact on Earth's climate. However, representative sampling of large rivers is non-trivial and requires advanced techniques. I will demonstrate some state of the art techniques employed by the Cambridge rivers research group, as well as how our research in Southeast Asia is helping shed light on the complex controls on the global climate.

Past Research Talks

Thursday 29 November 2018
Dr Nanna Kaalund (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)

As the reduction in polar ice turns the Northwest Passage into a viable trading route and a lucrative fishing area, the legal status has become a key concern, with several nations claiming its ownership. Upon discovery of John Franklin’s wrecked ship HMS Erebus in 2014, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time Stephen Harper stated that “Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.” Harper’s assertion that Franklin’s expedition was the beginning of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic – however flawed – shows the long-lasting influence of nineteenth-century Arctic explorations on the geopolitical landscape. The lost Franklin expedition generated international interest, collaboration, and financial assistance for search missions. With reference the Fox expedition under Captain Francis Leopold McClintock, one of the many nineteenth-century search missions for the lost Franklin expedition, this presentation examines the nineteenth-century tensions surrounding international Arctic collaborations. The intersection of imperial competition, national tragedy, and scientific observation, invites discussion concerning the role of science in the national construction of the Arctic.

Tuesday 27 November 2018
Dr Nancy Highcock, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge

Nearly seventy years of scientific excavations at Kültepe have yielded a remarkable assemblage of material reflecting the rich and fluid daily lives of the Anatolians, Assyrians, and others who inhabited such a dynamic and cosmopolitan city. A diverse category of objects, metal dress pins, has been recovered from burials at Kültepe and other Middle Bronze Age Anatolian sites, providing tangible connections to the ancient people who wore them. Previous scholarship has focused on the style and origin of these pins, generally associated with female adornment, but both the cuneiform and material records also allow for glimpses into the economic power they held for women during this period. Pierced clothing pins originating in the Mesopotamian sphere, called tudittu in the texts, were often gifted to women upon transformative life events such as marriage or consecration into a religious order. The Old Assyrian mercantile texts record such social transactions but also indicate that tudittu could function as working capital in times of need. Non-pierced Anatolian dress pins have also been recovered and the survival of their impressions on crescent-shaped loom weights across Anatolia also speak to their importance to the economic agency of women. Through a study of the various types of pins and their associated objects within the contextual framework provide by the texts, this paper will explore the multiple roles of these personal objects and analyze how both Anatolian and Assyrian women used pins to mediate the social, religious, and economic worlds in which they navigated.

Thursday 22 November 2018
IOANNIS KONTOYIANNIS

Information is arguably the most pervasive metaphor that has borne of scientific research over the past 50 years. It is the core notion in many fields of science, including genetics, neuroscience, and the ever-expanding world of ubiquitous digital connectivity provided by the internet, the world-wide wide web, and our wireless networks. It is also important in economics, sociology, musicology, the study of animal (including human) communication, even in the fundamental understanding of black holes. I will try to outline some of the basic ideas behind the answers to the following questions: Is information a physical commodity? How can it be precisely understood and described mathematically? How is it measured? How does it relate to randomness, structure, noise and context?

Tuesday 20 November 2018
Valentina Ausserladscheider, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge

Right-wing populism experiences unprecedented success on the European political landscape. Illustrative of such success are the UK Independence Party´s Brexit campaign and the Austrian Freedom Party in the last general elections. The first played a major role in the UK´s decision to exit the European Union, and the latter presents Austria´s current government in coalition with the conservative party. My research explores the communication of these parties to the public and the way in which their economic policy proposals changed over the past decades. In doing so, I seek to understand how economic ideas, such as trade tariffs and renationalizing industries regained popularity; more specifically, how are these mobilized to condemn European integration, world markets and globalization and support cultural values such as nationalism, nativism and cultural conservativism. This research thereby contributes to the understanding of how the rise of right-wing populism is not just a cultural backlash against progressive values such as cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism, but also a reaction to neoliberal economic policies that shape the current economic system.

Valentina is an economic sociologist who is interested in socio-political ideas of elites shaping economic integration in Europe. Currently, she is a PhD student at the Sociology Department of the University of Cambridge. Her thesis investigates the rise of economic nationalist ideas in political elite´s discourse. This entails analyzing policy proposals such as the advocacy of monetary nationalism and protectionist trade tariffs in Austria and the UK. For this, she was awarded the Adam Smith Fellowship for research on political economy by the George Mason University, US.

Thursday 15 November 2018
Robert Kupp (CRUK Cambridge Institute / Oncology)

Ependymomas are tumors of the central nervous system, arising within the ependymal lining at the ventricle-parenchyma interface. Molecular profiling studies suggests ependymomas in different anatomical compartments are distinct and disparate diseases, with unique cells of origin and genetic drivers. We have recently described a highly recurrent 11q structural variant, producing a fusion translocation between the C11orf95 gene of unknown function and RELA, the principal effector of NF-kB signaling. C11orf95-RELA Fusion proteins, when introduced into neural stem cells, rapidly transform to form ependymoma. Furthermore, recent studies analyzing the genomes and transcriptomes of 500 primary ependymomas have reinforced these findings, showing that C11orf95-RELA fusion proteins are found within ~70% of forebrain (supratentorial) ependymomas and correlated with negative overall survival. However, the molecular events preceding and following Fusion transformation remain largely unknown. In this study we will present our recent efforts integrating transcriptome, proteome, interactome, and genome wide mapping of Fusion proteins (as well as their individual components) to understand the mechanisms by which neural stem cells transform to form ependymomas.

Close menu
Site navigation mobile menu