Café Scientifique in Canterbury

Café Scientifique is a series of talks and discussion about science and technology, that take place in informal venues such as pubs and cafes. The Canterbury branch meets once a month, usually on the second or third Tuesday of each month.

Our meetings for this year will be held in the upstairs room in The Parrot, 1-9 Church Lane, Canterbury, CT1 2AG. Wwe will usually be in the upstairs room, but look for the Café Scientifique signs. The talks start at 7pm. They are free to attend.

Parking is available at the St. Radigund's and Northgate car parks, which are about 5-10 minutes walk from the venue (the car parks charge until 9pm). The Canterbury bus station is about 10-15 minutes walk from the venue.


Current Events

We hope that Café Scientifique will return in May 2015.

Past Events

Dr. Louise Naylor: Designer Babies

Dr. Chris Solomon: Catching criminals with automated face recognition.

Dr. David Oliver: Palliative care—not just for the end of life.

Dr. Colin Johnson: Collective Intelligence: Do Swarms and Crowds Think? .

Prof. Frank Furedi: When risk becomes everything.

Dr. Dan Lloyd: Kill or Cure: The consequences of damage to our genes.

Prof. Mark van Vugt: Evolutionary Social Psychology; a theory about sex shopping and warfare.

Dr. Jon Williamson: Machines that reason

Prof. Mark Burchell: Life in space and how we find it

Dr. Andy King: Tick-bites and odd-bods: Using science to hack computer systems

Prof. Fritz Muehlschlegel: How to stay healthy in the hospital

Dr. Sarah Johns: Teenage Motherhood and Pregnancy

Dr. Andy Hone: The Nature of Truth

Prof. John Dore: Water: The Magic of Molecular Science

Dr. Arnaud Wisman: How do we regulate the awareness of our own mortality

Prof. Darren Griffin: Designer Babies Parte Deux: Now it's personal

Prof. Martin Warren: The madness of King George III

Dr. Alison Edwards: Carbohydrates: Some Sweet Chemistry

Dr. Owen Lyne: "Chancing it": Luck, Lotteries and Life

Dr. Rosie Cowell: Brain-reading: how modern neuroscience techniques can tell what you're thinking from the activity of your neurons

April 21, 2009 (note: third Tuesday of the month)

Dr. Colin Johnson: Machine Ethics

What might it mean for a robot, or a computer system, to act ethically or morally? Is it meaningful for a machine to act within an ethical framework, or are such ideas appropriate only to describe human activity? Will robots ever have be able to have sufficient "free will" that they can be described as having ethical or moral responsibility, or will we always be able to place the ethical responsibility for their actions onto their creators? These questions have been explored for decades by technologists, philosophers and science-fiction writers. In this talk I will give an overview of these ideas, which will be followed by a discussion.

May 12, 2009

Prof. Laurence Goldstein: Adjusting Speech to Context

Most conversational utterances are concise. There are standard means of achieving conciseness (ellipsis) but the most interesting way, to be discussed this evening, consists of opportunistically exploiting features of the particular convers ational environment. Speakers do this routinely, in real time, so we tend not to notice what a truly amazing achievement it is.

June 9, 2009

Prof. Murray Smith: The Film Instinct

In 1994, Stephen Pinker published The Language Instinct in which he argued that language is an evolved, biological adaptation. Early in 2009, Denis Dutton published The Art Instinct in which he argued, still more contentiously, that art is a universal practice with an evolved, adaptive value. In the intervening 15 years, evolutionary psychology - a crucial influence on both works - has come to the fore of intellectual inquiry. In this discussion we'll consider what pertinence evolutionary psychology, and the arguments of those like Pinker and Dutton, have for our understanding of a modern medium like film, founded as it is on a dvanced technological developments. Is it folly to think in terms of something like a 'film instinct,' or might there be some method to the apparent madness of the idea? And more generally, are the methods and knowledge drawn from the sciences relevant to our understanding of cultural phenomena like film?

September 8th, 2009

Dr. Cyril Isenberg: Understanding Numbers and the Geometry of Roadways (or, How to Impress Friends and Colleagues)

This talk is concerned with (1) some interesting results concerning integers and (2) the geometry of roadways.

October 13th, 2009

Prof. Michael Kölling: Is Computer Programming Hard?

Introductory computer programming courses at universities have one of the highest failure rates, often between 20% to 50%, across many different institutions, countries, cultures, and over several decades. Why is this? Is programming just intrinsically harder than many other technical subjects, or are we teaching it wrong? Have we not been able to discover how to teach it over the past 40 years?

Looking at this issue raises some interesting questions about both programming and pedagogy, and its discussion will have to include thoughts on educational theory, the psychology of learning, constructivism, as well as the nature and technology of programming.

The discussions coming out of this might be more about learning than about programming, so if computing is not your thing, fear not. We might talk about how to organise learning or teaching in general, independent what your area of interest is, or we might go off on other tangents.

November 10th, 2009

Dr. Charlotte Sleigh Patrons of science: then and now

Science has always been an expensive business, and scientists have long relied on patrons to fund their research and to bring it kudos. Historians of science have discovered some entertaining and unexpected things about these relationships; on the basis of their findings we can also ask what form the patronage of science takes in the present, and whether it works for good or ill ...

January 12th, 2010

Sorry - Cancelled due to uncertainty over weather conditions.

February 9th, 2010

Dr. Dan Mulvihill: How yeast are helping to cure cancer

The ability to carefully regulate and execute cell division is one of the most fundamental processes of life itself. This is true from the simplest of single celled organisms such as bacteria or yeast, to humans. The precise control of this mechanism is crucial during growth and development of the complex architecture within multi-cellular organisms. The consequences of improper or unregulated cell division can have drastic consequences upon the organism, leading to congenital birth defects and the development of cancer later in life. A number of key mol ecules regulate the onset of cell division, determining when a cell should grow, when it should divide, when it should stop growing, and when it should die. Work carried out over the last 4 decades in the simple single celled yeast uncovere d the identity and functions of these fundamental molecules and has revealed hug e amounts of information about their role during development and the causes of cancer. During the talk I will discuss this research and highlight some of the major findings that helped uncover the molecular basis of many cancers.

March 9th, 2010

Dr. Jim Ang: Let's Get Serious About Games

Playing computer games has always been traditionally seen as a young male activity which is confined within an individual, isolated space. This stereotypical view is further exacerbated by the violent content in computer games, supported by a plethora of research in games and violent behaviour. However, as the gaming industry is moving towards maturity, we are witnessing a gradual but significant change in public perceptions, the demographics of players, and the industry's effort in developing games with "serious" content, e.g. games that deal with social political issues. Within academia, we are intrigued by the potential of this new interactive medium in various disciplines. Already, there has been research in the use of computer games in healthcare (virtual therapy, rehabilitation, beha viour intervention programmes), education (game-based learning, e-learning in 3D virtual worlds, virtual experiments and scientific exploration), interactive storytelling (story simulators, Janet Murray's vision of "Hamlet on the Holodeck") , artistic expressions (game art exhibition perhaps?), just to name a few. I will talk about serious and innovative uses of computer games which will have an impact on people's life and the society at large.

April 20th, 2010

Dr. Lavinia Mitton: The integration of ethnic minorities into British society: what we know and what we need to know

There is a strong interest among policy-makers in the integration of Britain's ethnic minorities, but what does 'integration' mean and why have some minority et hnic groups integrated further than others? This talk will discuss the way in which social policy analysts study questions such as this, and how this research interacts with the development of policy and practice in this area.

May 11th, 2010

Dr. Roger Giner-Sorolla: That's Disgusting!

Disgust is an interesting emotion because it is so many-faceted. We express disgust in many situations; worms can be disgusting, but so can corrupt politicians. But are these really all the same emotion? I will make the case that there are many levels of disgust and not all of them are exactly the same. Along the way I will also talk about research in my lab and elsewhere showing some of the unique characteristics of moral decisions that are made based on disgust, versus anger. This will help answer the question of whether we should listen to our disgusted reactions, or try to put them aside, when making moral decisions in everyday life.

June 8th, 2010

Scarlett Thomas: Our Tragic Universe

Scarlett Thomas will be reading from her newly-published novel Our Tragic Universe and talking about how she writes about science.

12th October 2010

Dr. Dominique Chu What is Science?

Not at least with all the budget cuts that are expected to come, there is a renewed discussion about how the public should prioritise its spending. One of the stakeholders in this political game is science. Our Universities and research organisations need money, not only to educate students but also to do science. Yet, doing science is expensive. The question is whether it is also worth doing. Before this question can be answered it would be helpful to be able to understand what science actually is. In this talk I will provide some initial suggestions which will then start a debate.

2nd November 2010

Prof. Bob Newport Using Glass to Mend the Body

Glass is ubiquitous: from wine glasses in shop windows through telescopes to fibre optic cables. We know it as a hard and chemically durable substance without which 21st century life would look very different indeed. A look inside, at the scale of its constituent atoms, reveals a rather complex and subtle material with the potential to hold yet more useful 'secrets'. Indeed, modern research has produced glasses which promote bone growth, help metal prostheses to bond securely within the body, prevent the growth of bacteria and deliver drugs with precision to specific parts of the body. Glass technology is more than five thousand years old, but glass science advances still.

7th December 2010

Prof. John Dore Mathematical Games: a Consideration of Concepts and Analysis

Mathematical puzzles and problems have a wide appeal for all ages and across many different communities. This area of Recreational Mathematics has a long history and aims to challenge and entertain at the same time. It uses mathematical ideas in an unusual setting and often engages the solver in thinking in unfamiliar ways. The talk will address some aspects of recreational maths and set the activity in the context of mathematical understanding. As an example, we may cite the popularity of Sudoku and the fact that many newspapers now carry a games page devoted to this and similar activities. Why does this occur when there is apparently a national crisis about the standard of maths achievement at school? Has mathematics teaching become too centred on following a prescribed recipe rather than encouraging creative thinking? There will be an opportunity to try out some unfamiliar puzzles and games with a mathematical basis during the session.

18th January 2011 (note: third Tuesday)

Dr. Ian Blomfield E.coli: Friend and Foe

E.coli all too often appears in the news when an outbreak causes serious illness in young children infected by contact with domestic animals. Yet, on a case-by-case basis, E.coli causes far more infections than are commonly reported in the media. Moreover less well known is the fact that most of us play host to this bacterium without ill effect and that E.coli is a key "model organism" used to study the fundamental biochemical events need for all life to function. And it is a "workhorse" in the biotechnology industry. The talk will focus on the importance of this bacterium to our health, scientific understanding of life and economic prosperity.

8th February 2011

Dr. Edward Cartwright Nudge or Shove: The Economics of Behaviour Change

The concept of 'Nudge', popularized in a book by Thaler and Sunstein, has caught the imagination of many. The basic idea, is that small changes to policy, or the way policy is framed, can lead to big changes in behaviour. Proponents argue that Nudge is a cheap and simple solution to many of the worlds ills; it can be used to promote healthy eating, increase saving for retirement, reduce pollution, and much more. Encouraged by such claims the current government has taken Nudge seriously; a 'Nudge unit' exists in the Cabinet office and Nudge is already influencing policy towards health care and the environment. So, is the hype justified? In this session we shall look at the economic and psychological evidence behind Nudge, and provide a framework for evaluating its pros and cons.

8th March 2011

Dr. Ali Hojjat How Medical Image Processing can help Doctors to Reduce the Risk of Errors

The growth in medical imaging systems and their application, like CT, MRI, PET, ultrasound and x-ray imaging resulted in huge volume of data being generated. Processing such data requires substantial resources which is not available especially in screening centres. The quality of the evaluation can be improved if sophisticated algorithms are employed to pre-process such data and provide abstract information before the data is analysed. Such computer aided diagnosis (CAD) algorithms range from simple calculations to very complex stages sometimes with subtle results!

We will study the risk associated with using and not using CAD systems for a couple of applications including cancer detection (breast, lung, and skin cancer), and computer assisted systems for brain surgery. We will also discuss the problems associated with the development and clinical use of such systems in practice.

10th May 2011

Dr. Stuart Gibson Constructing the Face of a Suspect: From PhotoFIT to E-FIT and beyond

In the absence of other leads, a facial description may represent the best opportunity for locating a person who is suspected of committing a crime. Systems for developing pictorial representations of suspects' faces have been used regularly in the UK since 1970 when PhotoFIT enabled police to locate the murderer of James Cameron in Islington, London. In 1989 a computerised version of the PhotoFIT system was introduced which became known as Electronic Facial Identification Technique (E-FIT). This system is currently used by 90% of UK police and in over 30 other countries. E-FIT is an effective policing tool but its usefulness can be limited by the witness¢ ability to describe the suspect's face in detail. Unfortunately witnesses find it difficult to recall descriptions of faces from memory (especially unfamiliar faces). To address this drawback a new approach has been developed that makes use of the inherent human capacity for recognising similarities between faces. Researchers at the University of Kent have pioneered this approach and their work has led to a commercial system, EFIT-V, that is already being used by 50% of UK police.

14th June 2011

Steven Cutts Life on Mars

An exploration of Mars itself, following how our perceptions of the planet have changed and leading to the possibilities of finding alien life or establishing our own colonies on this planet. Steve Cutts is an orthopaedic surgeon and science writer. His recent novel Viking Village describes a future settlement on Mars.

February 7th 2012

Cancelled due to bad weather

March 13th 2012

Prof. Mick Tuite, Senile Yeast: What can we learn about Alzheimer's Disease by studying Baker's Yeast?

If you live to the age of 75 you have a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer's Disease but only a 1 in a million chance of developing CJD, the brain disease linked to Mad Cow Disease. Yet both diseases have a common cause and the same impact on the human brain. New research using Baker's Yeast has begun to shed light on what triggers these diseases and other human diseases that affect the brain and I will argue that Baker's Yeast is an important new alternative to animals as a 'model' for such studies.

May 8th 2012

Dr. Geoff Dunn, The development of a device to investigate the structure of Cocoa trees using low field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

The talk will briefly cover the theory of NMR before looking at the challenges of building a working device using rare earth magnets.

June 12th 2012

Dr Dave Colthurst, Keep Smyelin: can school students help us understand the role of Myelin Basic Protein in Multiple Sclerosis?

For the past four years, the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys has received funding from the Wellcome Trust to run a research programme with their Sixth Form students. The students have learnt techniques in molecular biology and protein chemistry and are applying these to try to understand more about the behaviour of Myelin Basic Protein (MBP), a major protein in the myelin sheath of the central nervous system.

With the help of colleagues from the Biosciences Department at the University of Kent, we have succeeded in cloning the human gene for MBP into a yeast expression plasmid and are now expressing the protein under a Gal-promoter in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The aim of the work is to identify phosphorylation events and to see if these have an impact on the structural integrity of this protein.

11th December 2012

Steven Cutts. The Technology of Joint Replacement

Steven Cutts, an orthopaedic surgeon, will talk about about new technologies in joint replacement, including hips and knee and ankle replacements. He will then talk about futuristic alternatives to joint replacement.

15th January 2013

Dr. Peter Klappa. "Who Wants to Live Forever? - The Quest for Immortality

A life-long dream of humankind is to achieve immortality. From research on model organisms, we begin to understand that ageing is a very complex process, which involves a plethora of underlying molecular mechanisms. We will investigate the current state of the research into ageing and the associated mechanisms. We will address questions like, "Why do certain organism have a very long life-span?", "Is there a link between life expectancy and certain molecular processes?" and "Can we manipulate some of these processes to extend our own life?". Interesting aspects of the discussion will be the ethical and sociological implications of this kind of research.

12th February 2013

Dr. Becky Parker. Citizen Science with CERN@school

In the next few months a new cosmic ray detector - the Langton Ultimate Cosmic Ray Intensity Detector (LUCID) - will be launched into space. Unusually, this has been developed by a group of students at a local grammar school. This talk will look at how this has happened, and how people can get involved in discovering new things about radiation in Space and on Earth by analysing data from this project and from detectors at CERN.

12th March 2013

Dr. Tobias von der Haar. Faster, faster: How to avoid molecular road rage

Life depends on a huge number of molecular reactions taking place in an ordered manner. Some of these reactions involve physical movement of molecular motors. For example, the synthesis of proteins involves the reading of information from a long linear template (a copy of the DNA gene called RNA), and this reading involves physical movement of a molecular decoding machine along the template. In cells of the human body, 2 million reading machines attempt to decode about 200,000 RNAs. This creates traffic jams, collisions and other issues similar to the road traffic encountered in a big city. I will present some of our recent insights into the rules that govern this traffic inside your cells.

14th May 2013

Prof. Alan Chadwick. The Mary Rose: Conserving a Wreck with Nanoscience

The Mary Rose was the flagship of the navy of Henry VIII. Built in 1509 and after an illustrious career sank in Portsmouth Harbour in 1545 in a confrontation with the French fleet. She remained on the seabed until the wreck was re-discovered in 1967 and raised in 1982. A large fraction of the hull was recovered and is currently in the process of conservation prior to exhibition to the public in 2013 in a purpose-built museum. The ship and the 20,000 artefacts represent a unique insight into Tudor life and are a national treasure. The conservators at the Mary Rose Trust were faced with a wide range of problems and in collaboration with scientists at the University of Kent have been studying the ¡sulfur problem¢. This is the generation of sulfuric acid in the normal atmosphere from reduced sulfur compounds in the timbers and is common in waterlogged wooden objects. The work has used a wide range of techniques with synchrotron experiments playing a major role. A possible solution to the sulfur problem is the treatment of the timbers with alkaline nanoparticles to act as reservoirs that neutralise the acid. This talk will review the progress of this research and some of the general conservation problems with raised wrecks.

11th June 2013

Dr. Dominique Chu ( Scientists and Soothsayers

One of the questions that has kept philosophers of science awake for a long time is this one (roughly at least): What is the difference between a science and soothsaying?

This question is more than just of academic-philosophical interest. It is practically very important for every single one of us because we, as a society (and to some extent as individuals as well), spend quite some money on scientific advice. Be it for safety reports before building a nuclear power station, to get a cure from a disease or to understand how we could at minimal cost reduce our climate footprint.

Why do we invest in all this expensive science, when we could instead ask a soothsayer for predictions on the climate, or a some other spiritually gifted person for advice on building a nuclear power station. They would certainly be cheaper.

The standard answer to this question is that science is superior to those because it uses the scientific method. The problem with this answer is that during their long sleepless nights the above mentioned philosophers of science have not been able to say what this scientific method is. This is probably best expressed by the philosopher Paul Feyerabend who said in his famous book "Against method" that "Anything goes."

During this evening I would like to explore whether or not the superiority of science as a knowledge generation activity is in any way justified. Is science really better at finding answers to problems than non-science such as soothsaying, casting runes, or simply voting?

This talk will be based on ideas of my recently published book "The science myth."

22nd October 2013

Prof. John Dore, Chaos, Emergence and Organisation: a Scientist's View of Complexity

Progress in the physical sciences has primarily involved a reductionist approach, where an observed behaviour is explained in terms of simpler/smaller entities (molecules to atoms to nuclei to elementary particles/quarks). This top-down approach has been immensely successful and provides the main paradigm for knowledge advancement but we are also becoming aware of other phenomena, where collective/organised behaviour seems to occur [e.g. colonies of ants, DNA coding, brain function, life itself). There is an increasing interest in the way these hierarchies are formed and organised, so science is moving into a relatively new area of bottom-up research. We will take a brief look at how this is happening and what it might mean for the future.

12th November 2013

Dr. Yiqing Liang, Who will be your doctor in 20 years?

Humans are very good at inventing tools to extend our abilities: bicycles, planes, telephones, search engines, and many more. Increasingly, these technologies are about communication, in particular providing ways for people to collaborate when they are many miles, or continents, away from each other.

One area in which this will be of increasing importance is in healthcare. Crowdsourcing medical systems allow the knowledge of many healthcare professionals to be pooled. In particular, healthcare workers in remote parts of the world can draw on the expertise of doctors from across the world. The development of such systems would mean that high-quality healthcare could spread around the world without so much need to place highly trained specialists in every location. Furthermore, once a database of such expertise has been developed, there is potential for the system to be trained to extract knowledge from its vast database of previous cases.

This talk will explore a possible future where a doctor's knowledge can be enhanced by the collective intelligence of numerous doctors around the world, from the past to present. How can this be achieved, and is it desirable? In twenty years time, will your doctor be local, on another continent, or even be an artificially intelligent computer system?

14th January 2014

Dr. Colin Johnson: The New New Map of Learning: from Teaching Machines to Online Learning

In the last couple of years, there has been much hype in the media about online learning, in particular so-called MOOCs— massive, open, online courses—where an educational institution makes courses available online via video lectures, quizzes, discussion forums and so on, and which are currently free to sign up to. Advocates of MOOCs suggest that they will revolutionise learning in the 21st century. More recently, they have been criticised, both for low completion rates—with one recent study suggesting that only 13% of students on MOOCs complete their course—and, because the model of teaching and learning used is naive and outdated.

This talk will explain the background to MOOCs, put this in the context of developments in educational technology over the last century, and provide a chance to discuss and speculate on whether these new ways of learning and teaching offer anything genuinely innovative to learners.

11th February 2014

Matthew Trump: Practical IT Security

Computers security issues are in the news every week. Can your identity and finances be safe online? How can you prevent important documents from vanishing just before deadlines? What kinds of security threats are there, and how can you be safer online? This talk will be a jargon-free discussion of practical issues in computer security, focusing on those issues that are of relevance to the general public.

There will be a practical element to the session: we will recommend some free software that you can download to check how secure your computer is and improve its security. So, please do bring along a laptop to join in the practical session on the night, or bring a notepad and pen so that you can note down some details.

11th March 2014

Dr. Ellen Swift: 3-D Scanning of Roman Artefacts

This talk explores the use of the new technology of 3-D scanning in the analysis of Roman artefacts, including objects that can be seen on display in Canterbury's Roman Museum. Artefacts are fragile, and conservation requirements mean that often we cannot carry out experiments on them that would help us to find out how they were used. Using 3-D scanning, however, we can investigate aspects of artefact function that otherwise could not be explored.

20th May 2014

Dr. Annemieke van den Tol: 'Beautiful but sad' music can help people feel better

This talk will be based on recent studies that investigate the reasons why people choose particular pieces of music when they are experiencing sadness. The study identified a number of motives for sad people to select a particular piece of music they perceive as 'sad', but found that in some cases their goal in listening is not necessarily to enhance mood. In fact, choosing music identified as 'beautiful' was the only strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement.

The results showed that if an individual has intended to achieve mood enhancement through listening to 'sad' music, this was in fact often achieved by first thinking about their situation or being distracted, rather than directly through listening to the music chosen. Indeed, where respondents indicated they had chosen music with the intention of triggering memories, this had a negative impact on creating a better mood.

The talk will describe these studies and explore issues about how people use music to manage moods.

17th June 2014

Dr. David Roesner: Music-based Videogames: the beginning or end of creativity?

This talk will present work from a research network which explores questions around creativity, pedagogical value, interactivity and agency in so-called music based videogames. Games such as Guitar Hero, Wii music, Dance Central, or Sing Star have enjoyed huge economic success in the past few years, but have also been criticised as surrogates for 'real' music-making. The network seeks to differentiate the different games available and look more closely at their potential to facilitate creativity and learning - perhaps in new and different ways?