DCSA

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

Darwin Lunchtime Talks will recommence next term and the schedule posted here.

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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