Darwin College Students' Association

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 28 February 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Ben Raynor, Darwin College

Recent work on the formation of regional identity in the ancient world has focused on the importance of 'bottom-up' factors, such as long-term collaboration and interchange between neighbouring population groups, or cooperation to resist external interference. While such work has produced important insights, it may underestimate the importance of 'top-down' factors, particularly in the monarchic states of the ancient world where autocrats had broad capabilities to intervene in the political and social geography of a region. This talk will investigate these issues in ancient Epirus, a region in the northwest of the Balkan peninsula around the modern Greece-Albania border. It will argue that royal policy played a crucial role in the formation of a regional identity in Epirus in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.

Dr Ben D. Raynor is the Moses and Mary Finley Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge.

Thursday 2 March 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Anna V. Protasio

Parasites have co-evolved with their hosts through millions of years are arguably provide some of the finest examples of adaptability to a ever changing environment. One particular flatworm parasite called Schistosoma mansoni, is responsible for infecting ~ 200 million people worldwide. Using the latest genomic and informatics technologies, such as those used for the sequencing of the human genome, we can now start to investigate what makes these parasites so adaptable and remarkably successful in surviving hostile conditions inside their hosts even for decades!

Bio: Dr. Anna V. Protasio graduated with a BSc. in Biochemistry from the University of the Republic, in Uruguay. She then moved to Cambridge to pursue a PhD in Molecular Biology at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge. During this time, Anna developed a great appreciation for parasitology and became a pioneer in the use of massive parallel sequencing applied to the understanding of gene expression in these parasites. She remained at the Sanger Institute with a Postdoctoral Fellowship for further 4 years. in 2016, she became a NCBS-InStem-Cambridge Fellow and an "awaiting" Research Affiliate at Darwin College (to join in Oct 2017)

Tuesday 7 March 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Nick Hardy, University Library

Few things seem more quintessentially English than the most widely read vernacular translation of the Bible, the ‘King James’ or ‘Authorized’ Version of 1611. But new sources for the making of the translation, presented in this talk, show that it was heavily influenced by continental scholarship. Indeed, the revision of some of its most important sections was overseen by a French emigré, the scholar and religious controversialist, Isaac Casaubon — even though Casaubon hardly spoke English. I propose to use the example of Casaubon to shed some light on the international culture of research and controversy surrounding the biblical text that animated the translators’ decisions about how to render it.

Nick Hardy took his BA in Classics and English (2008) and DPhil in English (2012) at Oxford before taking up Fellowships at Trinity College, Cambridge (2012-2016) and now at the University Library and Darwin College. His interests lie in later sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English and continental humanism, biblical scholarship and translation.

Tuesday 14 March 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Michael David Clark, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

The Islamic State (ISIS) has usurped the government in swathes of eastern Syria and western Iraq. It is engaged in a brutal war against an array of state and non-state actors, many of which are also in conflict with one another. There are many theories that seek to explain why and how states go to war. We can use these extant theories to understand the whys and wherefores of state behaviour in the case of the war against ISIS, and much excellent scholarship has been conducted in this regard. However, it is far from clear that we can apply them to the war between non-state actors that is arguably the more important part of this particular conflict. Do the extant theories of war help us understand why and how non-state actors go to war? If they do not, how can we adapt them in order to synthesise an approach with more explanatory power? This paper seeks to test extant theories of war to the case study of the ongoing conflict involving the Islamic State. This is a particularly pertinent case study as many the central protagonists are non-states, and indeed the war itself is against a non-state actor. The paper specifically dismisses the role of state actors in this conflict in order to focus attention on the drivers and factors at play in non-state wars; this is a theoretical assumption rather than a statement of reality. However, in viewing the conflict through a lens that is blind to the state, the paper aims to help us understand the conflict in a novel way, as well as to reveal the contributions that different theoretical approaches can make and the potential ways in which these can be combined to synthesise a non-state theory of war.

Dr Michael David Clark is a lecturer in the department of Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He gained his PhD in Politics and International Studies from Darwin College, Cambridge, in 2016. His doctoral research addressed the formulation of foreign policy in Hezbollah and the Sadrist Movement and built on prior work in the same field undertaken as part of his MSc at Bristol and MRes at Exeter. Michael's current research focuses on the application of IR theory and theories of war to armed non-state actors, particularly in the case of the war against the Islamic State. He is the author of a forthcoming monograph with Cambridge University Press.

Past Research Talks

Thursday 19 January 2017
Dr Stoyan Smoukov, Energy Research

As smarter artificial materials develop, many people have started to associate them with living things, due to the complexity of the behavior they exhibit. In people's minds autonomous responses to environments and calculated movement for each is associated not only with living but smart living matter. The field of smart materials may need the equivalent of the Turing Test for computer intelligence to establish a baseline level of what could commonly be called Smart Materials.

In our recent work we have developed materials with multiple functions, including actuation, sensing, and programmed movement. We have also observed the generation of multiple regular geometric shapes in liquid droplets - a phenomenon of artificial morphogenesis, with parallels to biological processes, such as polarization and gastrulation. The materials we work with are demonstrably non-living. Yet we show that something non-living could display higher complexity of behavior than many living creatures. We invite a discussion after the talk on the audience reactions to the smart materials and your thoughts on the development of a Smart Materials Turing Test.

Thursday 1 December 2016
Dr Ruth Hindshaw

Chemical weathering at the surface of the Earth removes atmospheric carbon dioxide and is widely considered to be the dominant negative climatic feedback mechanism buffering Earth’s climate over most of geological history. One major unknown in climate models is the effect of glaciers and ice sheets on terrestrial weathering rates, but by comparing chemical weathering processes in modern glaciated and un-glaciated terrain we can begin to understand how chemical weathering processes were affected by glacial-interglacial cycles in the past. In this talk I will present work from two catchments located in Svalbard, Norway which showcases the power of multiple metal isotope tracers to constrain weathering processes.

Tuesday 29 November 2016
Prof Derek Matravers, The Open University

The UK has undertaken to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention which aims to protect cultural property in war zones. The Convention raises the question of whether cultural property ought to be protected at the cost of human life. The conventional view is that protecting human life outweighs protecting cultural property. I will consider the argument to this conclusion; examining its structure, and debating its weaknesses. Derek Matravers is a Senior Member of the College. He was a junior member of Darwin from 1987 to 1991, when he studied for his PhD under Hugh Mellor (then a Fellow of the College). He was a Junior Research Fellow from 1991 to 1994. He is now Professor of Philosophy of The Open University.

Thursday 24 November 2016
Dr Rita Pancsa

Proteins are the fundamental executor molecules of living cells. They are polymers of amino acids and their functioning is tightly linked with their structure, i.e. the precise positioning of atoms. Recently, it has been shown that proteins may remain unstructured/disordered and yet be functional. More excitingly, certain proteins can interconvert between different folded structures and undergo a change between folded and unstructured conformations in a controlled and reversible manner (Regulated Unfolding; RU). In certain cases whole protein domains unfold as a result of minor chemical modifications, so called post-translational modifications (PTMs), exposing cryptic disordered segments affecting both protein cellular localization and interactions. Thus a fundamental open question is how prevalent is regulated unfolding and what are the underlying molecular principles? We hypothesize that RU is widely prevalent, because by conditionally exposing disordered regions hosting short linear interaction motifs (SLiMs) reversible conformational changes could alter the cellular localization and interactions of proteins and provide increased functional plasticity during conditions such as stress. The reason why RU remained understudied so far is most probably the lack of structural information for modified proteins. We develop and apply an inter-disciplinary computational and experimental approach involving the targeted discovery and characterization of proteins undergoing RU to elucidate the prevalence and biological relevance. Introducing regulated unfolding as a novel layer of protein function regulation will lay the foundations of a novel concept in biology.

Tuesday 22 November 2016
Prof James Birx

No interpretation of evolution is free from ideas, beliefs, and values. Orientations range from Charles Darwin's materialism, through Friedrich Nietzsche's vitalism, to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's spiritualism. In each case, a crucial event contributed to his interpreting organic history, e.g., reading a specific book or having a unique experience that significantly altered the thinker's previous worldview. This inquiry will analyze such pivotal moments and their far-reaching consequences for the interpreter's conception of life on earth and our own species. During his voyage on the HMS Beagle, the English scientist Darwin had been especially influenced by the vast temporal perspective offered by reading the geological writings of Sir Charles Lyell. The German philosopher Nietzsche was greatly inspired by his fortuitous encounter with an impressive pyramidal rock that suggested to him the eternal recurrence of the same. And the French Jesuit mystic Teilhard embraced an evolutionary framework only after having read Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution (1907), not the books of Darwin. This lecture will argue that any interpretation of the scientific fact of organic evolution involves a convergence of ideas, beliefs, and values beyond the empirical evidence.

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