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

Thursday 5 October 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr. Peter Murray-Rust (Unilever Centre, Dept. Of Chemistry, University of Cambridge)

Peter Murray-Rust,
ContentMine [1] and University of Cambridge

Public funding of science and medicine generates 1 trillion dollars of public knowledge per year but most of this is inaccessible to most people. Working with the Wikimedia Foundation we have developed tools for collecting over 6 million of the world's open scientific articles and extracting the facts from them into WikiFactMine (WFM) [2] . We use Wikidata [3] which, with over 40 million "items" from Wikipedia or world authorities, is based on modern Open Web technology. WFM reads every new Open scientific article (starting with biomedicine) and indexes the terms against WikiFactMine. It thus becomes a "knowledge prosthetic" or "amanuensis" so that everyone can immediately find the accumulated knowledge in Wikimedia resources.

We believe that with WikiFactMine the scientific literature becomes accessible to a wide range of people and machines. Data in articles can be automatically indexed on fulltext and diagrammatic content creating the base for a new generation of scientific search engines. We have created a wide range of "dictionaries" from Wikidata, allowing multidisciplinary search of articles (e.g. chemistry, diseases, drugs...) . WikiFactMine can expand "find all chemicals produced by conifers" to 500 phytochemicals and 2000 conifers and search for all of them. "What viral diseases have been reported in West Africa" might inform public health policies in a new manner.

The talk will cover the technology (which anyone can use; ContentMine already has a 15-year old contributing) and the politics of academic publication where revenue is often generated by artificial scarcity. Can we find a better way? Everyone can participate in WikiFactMine.

I thank Charles Matthews and Tom Arrow who created WikiFactMine.

[1] http://contentmine.org
[2] https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Wikidata:WikiFactMine
[3] https://www.wikidata.org

Thursday 12 October 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Giancarlo Soavi (Cambridge Graphene Centre)

Laser sources producing nanosecond (10-9 s) to sub-picosecond (10-12 s) pulses (i.e. ultrafast lasers) are deployed in a variety of applications ranging from scientific research, laser surgery, material processing and telecommunications. Regardless of the output wavelength, the majority of ultrafast laser systems employ a mode-locking technique, whereby a nonlinear optical element - called Saturable Absorber (SA) - turns the laser continuous wave output into a train of ultrashort optical pulses. The SA absorption (or optical loss) decreases as the incident light intensity increases. Thus, the SA works as an intensity-dependent optical switch.
The key requirements for SAs are fast response time, high modulation depth, broad wavelength range, low optical loss, low-cost and ease of integration into an optical system. Graphene, a one atom thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice, can simultaneously meet all these needs with better performances and lower cost compared to current technologies.
In this seminar I will introduce the basic concepts of ultrafast lasers and mode-locking and their importance for technological applications. I will then review the fundamental physical properties that make graphene the ideal candidate as saturable absorber for ultrafast lasers on an extremely broad energy range from visible to THz.

Thursday 19 October 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Domi Baretic (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge)

What do you do when your DNA is broken? Call for repair. The cell needs a healthy DNA so to faithfully read instruction carried in our genes. Our DNA daily undergoes physical damage as we interact with the environment. The cell has evolved a fascinating system made up of proteins that signal and repair broken DNA. My work
focused on the two protein enzymes called ATM and ATR. I was hoping to get more functional insights by studying the molecular architecture of ATM/R using the electron microscope. In my talk I would like to share with you my latest findings.

Thursday 26 October 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr. Laura Buck (Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge)

Buck, L. T.1, 2, De Groote, I.3, Hamada, Y.4, Stock, J. T.1

1 Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge
2 Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum
3 School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University
4 Section of Evolutionary Morphology, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University

Homo sapiens has a global distribution, a remarkable achievement for a tropical ape. Adaptations enabling this colonisation are intriguing given suggestions that humans exhibits high levels of physiological and behavioural malleability associated with a ‘colonising niche’. Differences in body size/shape between members of the same species from different climates are well-known adaptations in mammals; could relatively flexible size/shape have been important to human species adapting to novel habitats? If so, at what point did this flexibility arise? To address these questions, a base-line for adaptation to climate must be established by comparison with suitable outgroups. Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) are the most northerly living non-human primates. They have great latitudinal spread and overlap with the historical distribution of prehistoric Jomon foragers, allowing matched latitude comparisons within monkeys and humans and making them an ideal outgroup for this study. We compare skeletons of M. fuscata from four different latitudes, including the most northerly and most southerly extremes of the species’ distribution. Initial results show inter-group differences in M. fuscata postcranial and cranial size and shape. Size varies more than shape, showing a strong, positive relationship with latitude. However, the very small size of the southern-most (island) sample may be affected by resource availability. Allometry-free shape shows geographic patterning and perhaps echoes some trends seen in human groups at high latitudes. These insights begin to provide a comparison for human adaptation to climatic diversity and the role of colonisation in shaping the evolution and dispersal of human species.

Funding: This work was supported by the European Research Council (ADaPt Project: FP7-IDEAS-ERC 617627).

Thursday 2 November 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr. Aya Ben-Akov (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge)

Going through life, our senses perceive a continuous flow of information. Yet when we reminisce about the past, we remember experiences as discrete events. How does this occur? A leading theory (Event Segmentation Theory) suggests that salient changes result in prediction error (a failure to predict the immediate future), and are interpreted as boundaries between events. This, in turn, is thought to drive encoding of the preceding event to memory, while cleaning the slate for new information. I will discuss evidence supporting this theory, demonstrating that the hippocampus – a brain region strongly identified with formation of new memories – is particularly sensitive to the occurrence of event boundaries in naturalistic experience.

Thursday 9 November 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr. Lauren Marbella (Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge)

Lauren E. Marbella,1 Kent J. Griffith,1 Matthias F. Groh,1 Joseph Nelson,2 Matthew Evans,2 Andrew J. Morris,2 and Clare P. Grey1,*

1University of Cambridge, Department of Chemistry, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1EW, United Kingdom
2University of Cambridge, Theory of Condensed Matter Group, Cavendish Laboratory, J. J. Thomson Avenue, CB3 0HE, United Kingdom

As the demand for batteries for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and large-scale energy storage continues to increase, improvements in capacity, safety, lifetime, and particularly cost, to the current Li-ion standard are crucial. To address these needs, Na-ion batteries are a promising alternative for long-term energy storage sustainability in terms of both cost and natural abundance. For example, highly competitive layered Na-transition metal phosphate and oxide intercalation cathode materials offer a cost-effective alternative to their Li-ion counterparts. Further, Na-ion systems allow the replacement of expensive Cu current collectors with Al. However, robust candidates for anode materials in Na systems that offer equivalent capacities are lacking. As a result, progress in the development of suitable Na-ion batteries has been substantially stalled. Typical anode materials that are high performing for Li-ion systems, such as Si and graphite, do not reversibly store Na ions or suffer from low capacities, respectively. Otherwise, the high theoretical capacity for the formation of Na3P (2596 mAh/g) makes phosphorus-based materials promising candidates for anodes in Na-ion systems. 
Indeed, by combining elemental phosphorus with conductive carbon, we can produce high capacity (2510 mAh/g) in Na-ion batteries. However, while we find that performance near that of theoretical capacity is reached in the first cycle, the capacity retention in phosphorus anodes is poor. Here, we use advanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques (ultrafast magic-angle spinning, variable temperature quadrupolar NMR, and two dimensional phase adjusted spinning sidebands experiments) to probe the phase chemistry and structural transformations that occur during electrochemical cycling to begin to understand the processes that are responsible for capacity fade in phosphorus anodes in Na-ion batteries. The insights gained from this work should help to guide the design and formulation of electrode materials used in next generation electrochemical energy storage devices.

Thursday 16 November 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr. Ioannis Politis (Engineering Design Centre, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge)

In this talk, I will discuss some of my PhD and my PostDoc work on multimodal driver displays, autonomous car handovers, and inclusiveness. During my PhD, I investigated the utility of multimodal driver displays, meaning multisensory ways to alert drivers about events on the road, using audio, vibration, and visual cues. I studied the effectiveness of such displays in both manual and autonomous driving scenarios, and found that they can help people to recognise the urgency of the situation signified. My fascination for this topic, as well as the fact that autonomous cars are quickly becoming a reality, led me to pursue research in autonomous cars also in my PostDoc. I am currently working at the Department of Engineering, Engineering-Design Centre, as part of the project Human Interaction: Designing Autonomy in Vehicles, funded by EPSRC and Jaguar-Land Rover. The focus of the project is to design inclusive interfaces for autonomous cars, meaning interfaces that most people (and not only highly technical and highly capable people) are likely to find useful. A particularly critical part of the interaction between the car and the driver in autonomous cars, are the transitions between manual and autonomous modes, called handovers of control. Through an iterative design cycle, involving questionnaires, focus groups, and design workshops, we created a set of design concepts to assist these handovers. We then designed a set of dialogue interactions for this transition, and evaluated them with an inclusive user group in an autonomous car simulator. We revealed the potential of using our dialogue-based concepts for handovers, and are now improving them based on our findings, expecting to test them on a test track and on the road in the coming years.

Thursday 30 November 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Katarina Pisani (Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge)

In the last decades, there has been a rapid demographic shift, where populations in both developing and developed countries live far longer. Although an indication of medical advances and overall improved health, an increase in lifespan comes with great costs too. Individuals over the age of 65 have an increased chance of developing dementias and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and the chances increase every year. Despite numerous clinical trials and funds invested in testing for new cures and treatments, nothing has yet been found. These diseases, which are still incurable, progressive and eventually fatal, currently represent a tremendous burden on our social systems, as well as the patients’ and their families’ lives. The primary reason why no significant development in treating these conditions has occurred is that we do not really understand their molecular origins. In the Centre for Misfolding diseases we have been working to develop a ‘gene signature’ for such conditions, which will provide us with a tool to gain insight and allow us to recapitulate these diseases, which will test our fundamental understanding of their causes, as well as enabling effective drug discovery programs to be carried out.

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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