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Understanding How Our Genes Work

Dr Kat Arney

When?
Monday, January 18 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
Dr Kat Arney

What's the talk about?

The language of genes has become common in the media. We know they make your eyes blue, your hair curly or your nose straight. We're told that genes control the risk of cancer, heart disease, alcoholism or Alzheimer's. The cost of DNA sequencing has plummeted from billions of pounds to a few hundred, and gene-based advances in medicine hold huge promise.

There are 2.2 metres of DNA inside every one of your cells, encoding roughly 20,000 genes. These are the 'recipes' that tell our cells how to make the building blocks of life, along with all the control switches ensuring they're turned on and off at the right time and in the right place. But rather than a static string of genetic code, this is a dynamic, writhing biological library. With the help of cats with thumbs, fish with hips and wobbly worms, Kat will unpack some of the mysteries in our DNA and explain the latest thinking about how our genes work.

Dr Kat Arney is a science communicator and award-winning blogger for Cancer Research UK, as well as a freelance science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured on BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists and more. She is about to publish her first book, Herding Hemingway's Cats, about how our genes work. You can pre-order it from Hive.

 

Dr. Sylvia McLain

When?
Monday, November 16 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
Dr. Sylvia McLain

What's the talk about?

From developing theories and defining natural laws, science is a human construct. How does it work? What can it solve? How do you think science works? What does being a scientist mean to you? We will talk about the history of science and its culture and the rise and fall of theories and laws and dicuss what science means to us in the modern age.

Dr. Sylvia McLain is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford, runs a research group in the Biochemistry Department and teaches at St. Peter's College. She has an undergraduate degree in Zoology, a Masters in Education and a PhD in Chemistry. She is a failed house cleaner and fast-food server, and spends her spare time reading far too much and being altogether far too opinionated.

Dr Selina Wray

When?
Monday, October 19 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
Dr Selina Wray

What's the talk about?

Over 800,000 people in the UK live with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or other forms of dementia, and this number is set to rise as we face an aging population.  Currently, there are no disease modifying treatments for AD, and the care costs of looking after people with dementia represent a huge socioeconomic burden for the UK economy, as well as being devastating for the individuals and their families who live with the condition.

Finding novel therapies to slow down the onset and progression of dementia is a national research priority, as outlined in the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge. In this talk Selina Wray will discuss what we know about the causes of dementia, why clinical trials so far have failed and looking forward, how new methods of research can help us to better diagnose dementia, understand the molecular basis of the disease and ultimately develop the treatments we so desperately need.

Dr Selina Wray is a senior research associate in the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit for Dementia Research at UCL Institute of Neurology.  Her work focuses on understanding the molecular basis of Alzheimer’s Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia, with a particular focus on the use of stem cells to create disease models that can be used in the laboratory to understand disease mechanisms and develop novel therapies.  She recently received £900,000 in funding from NC3R to support her research and was also named Red Magazine’s Woman of the Year in the Pioneer category in 2014.

Iszi Lawrence

When?
Monday, September 28 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
Iszi Lawrence

What's the talk about?

Skeptic, comedian and voice of the Skeptics Guide To The Universe, Iszi Lawrence is out to delight and inform with her new show The Z List Dead List. The Z List Dead List is a live comedy show about obscure people from history. As a skeptic, Iszi has found a few people from the past that will pique your interest.

Expect woo, violence, sex and death. And a competition.

The show is also a podcast with guest interviews from Jon Ronson, Griff Rhys Jones, Natalie Haynes, Neil Denny, Richard Herring etc. You can find it on iTunes or from www.zlistdeadlist.com

Why children are great pretenders, poor problem solvers, and sometimes less clever than crows

Sarah Beck

When?
Monday, August 17 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
Sarah Beck

What's the talk about?

Young children are excellent imaginers, coming up with all kinds of creative and weird worlds. But what is the imagination really for? Adults use their imaginations to solve problems, but children sometimes struggle with this. In this talk, Sarah Beck will explore how children start to use their imaginations for creative problem solving, using examples of children’s thinking about ‘how things might have been different’ and comparing children’s tool-making to that of clever non-human animals.

Sarah Beck is Reader in Cognitive Development at the University of Birmingham. She researches children's thinking about possibility and time, and questions whether adults' thinking in these areas is as sophisticated as we might like to think. She teaches an undergraduate course that compares the cognitive abilities of human children with non-human animals.

The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

Sydney Padua

When?
Monday, July 20 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
Sydney Padua

What's the talk about?

One hundred years before the first computers were built out of wires and transistors, the Victorian polymath Charles Babbage designed a gigantic steam-powered, punchcard-programmed, cogwheel computer, the Analytical Engine.  His friend Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, completed some of the first programs for the machine, and theorised that one day it could be used for the manipulation of any kind of information. Unfortunately Ada died young and Babbage never built his Engine, leaving their story as one of the greatest what-ifs in the history of science.

Sydney Padua’s cult webcomic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, now a bestselling graphic novel, combines extensive research with alternate-universe comic-book escapes, where the mechanical computer is finally completed and used to build runaway economic models, defeat spelling errors, and of course, fight crime. In this talk she will tell the story of these two fascinating and brilliant eccentrics, and discuss her process of primary-source research and creative transformation. She will also display her 3-d animations of how the Analytical Engine would have looked and operated, some of the first visualisations ever created of that extraordinary machine.

Sydney Padua is a cartoonist and visual effects artist whose animation appears in The Iron Giant, Clash of the Titans, and John Carter. Her work has been featured in Wired and The Economist and she has spoken at Microsoft, Google, the BBC, and the Computer History Museum.

How we get science coverage wrong

David Robert Grimes

When?
Monday, June 15 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

11 Castle St
Reading
RG1 7SB

Who?
David Robert Grimes

What's the talk about?

Science and medicine have transformed our lives immeasurably, and never in history have they been more central to our lives and well-being. Yet despite this, there is often a glaring disconnect between the findings of actual science and media reporting of such topics, and consequently there is often a needless chasm between public perception and the evidence on many contentious topics. This can lead to needlessly adversarial and counter-productive discourse of everything from vaccination to climate-change. In this talk, physicist and science journalist Dr. David Robert Grimes discusses the frequent problems in reporting science from misunderstandings to bad statistics to false balance, and discusses the factors that influence this and how such problems can be remedied.

Dr. David Robert Grimes (@drg1985) is a physicist and writes regular opinion and analysis pieces on scientific issues for the Irish Times and the Guardian science, and is a regular panelist on science issues on radio and television. He is joint-recipient of the 2014 Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.

Nessa Carey

When?
Thursday, May 21 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

76-78 Kings Road, Reading, RG1 3BJ

Who?
Nessa Carey

What's the talk about?

Modern biology is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease and inheritance.

There are lots of situations where two things that are the same at the DNA level are different in appearance and behaviour. These tell us that there is more to life than just the genetic code, and they are known as epigenetic phenomena.

Think of a caterpillar and a butterfly, or a slipper limpet that can change its sex as an adult shellfish. Identical twins become more dissimilar as they age, despite sharing an identical DNA script. The differences can even be as extreme as one twin developing a serious disease while the other remains completely healthy.

Scientists are starting to understand how these epigenetic differences are created and maintained. The process depends on a complex set of chemicals that our cells add to our genes. These chemical changes controls how genes are expressed, so that the same genetic code can create different outcomes. They can also have unexpected effects.

For example, epigenetics is very significant to human health and disease and may have a role in a wide range of conditions from chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and schizophrenia, to drug addiction and to the long term effects of abusive or neglectful childhoods. It is also known to be important in cancer.

Sometimes, epigenetic effects may even be passed on from parent to child. Children born to mothers who have lived through starvation may have increased susceptibilities to various diseases later in life. Animal studies have suggested that fear itself may be passed down to offspring.

Nessa Carey has a virology PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is a former Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Imperial College, London. She has worked in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry for ten years.

Alice Bell

When?
Thursday, April 2 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

76-78 Kings Road, Reading, RG1 3BJ

Who?
Alice Bell

What's the talk about?

This is the tale of a scientific revolution that failed. Most scientific revolutions are about politics in some way, not just the nature scientists look at, but this was especially political in scope. Science, these revolutionaries argued, had lost its way. Science had become too focused to the whims of senior staff and their cronies, allowing its energies to be applied to war and environmental destruction. If the public didn’t like science, so the argument went, maybe they had a point. In the shadow of the still-blazing light of the atomic bomb, with increasing concern over chemical and biological weapons as well as an emerging environmental crisis, science needed to take a good, hard look at itself. Elitist and stuffy, science had let itself fester a bit. The time had come to imagine a new way of doing science. They were the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, BSSRS, or Bizrus to their friends. Active and reasonably well-known throughout the 1970s, they fell apart in the 1980s and are largely forgotten today. This is their story.

Alice Bell is a freelance journalist, specialising in the politics of science and technology. She writes about innovation for How We Get to Next and climate change for the Road to Paris. She's a science policy blogger for the Guardian and columnist for Popular Science UK. She used to be an academic, teaching science communication at Imperial College. Before that she set fire to bubbles for the Science Museum for a living.

@alicebell

Inside the world's biggest experiment

Prof. Jon Butterworth

When?
Tuesday, March 24 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

76-78 Kings Road, Reading, RG1 3BJ

Who?
Prof. Jon Butterworth

What's the talk about?

The discovery of the Higgs boson made headlines around the world. Two scientists, Peter Higgs and François Englert, whose theories predicted its existence, shared a Nobel Prize. The discovery was the culmination of the largest experiment ever run, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. But what really is a Higgs boson and what does it do? How was it found? And what will the LHC do next? Professor Jon Butterworth, a leading member of the ATLAS experiment and author of the book Smashing Physics - Inside the World's Biggest Experiment, will talk about all this and more.

Jon Butterworth is also Head of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at UCL, and writes for the Guardian.

Laura Holland

When?
Thursday, March 19 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

76-78 Kings Road, Reading, RG1 3BJ

Who?
Laura Holland

What's the talk about?

Located near Didcot in Oxfordshire, Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, used by over 3000 scientists to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines.

Half a kilometre in circumference, the machine speeds up electrons to near light speeds so that they give off a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. These bright beams are then directed off into multiple laboratories where scientists use the light to study a vast range of subject matter, from new medicines and treatments for disease to innovative engineering and cutting-edge technology.

Whether it’s fragments of ancient paintings or unknown virus structures, at the synchrotron scientists can study their samples using a machine that is 10,000 times more powerful than a traditional microscope.

Diamond is one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world, and its pioneering capabilities are helping to keep the UK at the forefront of scientific research.

From Quantum Field Theory to the Fourth Dimension: Why it's really easy to sound sciencey

Matt Parker

When?
Thursday, February 19 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

76-78 Kings Road, Reading, RG1 3BJ

Who?
Matt Parker

What's the talk about?

In this talk, particles and forces are considered as fully interacting relativistic quantum matter and force fields, respectively. Matt Parker will be visualized graphically as spacetime Feynman diagrams. Further, these interacting field systems can have ground states with the occasional joke; the so-called Higgs field being responsible for this symmetry breaking. In this all-new show, the ability for pseudo-scientists and charlatans to sound like real scientists will be imagined as fully interacting quantum-like fields.

Matt Parker is mathematician, stand-up comedian and skeptic. Well known for his cutting-edge research into the alignment of Woolworths stores, he is now on the road with a brand-new Skeptics talk. Matt will also be signing copies of his completely unrelated book: Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension.

@standupmaths