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Science Week 2017

Monday 3 April to Thursday 6 April 2017

For 2017 our talks focus on sharing our research with Birkbeck communities. These free talks are also open to the public - links to booking details are given in each event description.

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Related event

Be Birkbeck talk: Shining Light on Proteins - Professor Nicholas Keep

When: Monday 27 March 2017 (6.30-8pm)
Where: Birkbeck, Keynes Library, 43-46 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD.

Did you know that work at Birkbeck has contributed to our understanding of the chemistry of life? In 1937, when JD Bernal moved from Cambridge to Birkbeck, we became a leading centre for protein X-ray crystallography and, more recently, macromolecular electron microscopy.

We can now understand thousands of proteins in atomic detail using these techniques together with advances in genetic engineering which enable us to produce large quantities of almost any protein from any organism in bacteria or cell lines in the laboratory. Not only does this give us a detailed understanding of the chemistry of life; it also helps us to design and improve drugs.

In the first of the Be Birkbeck Deans’ series, and assuming no prior knowledge, Professor Nicholas Keep will explain how these techniques work, using illustrations from his own work and that of his colleagues. Book your free place for this talk.



Monday 3 April - Microbes in the Real World

The Interactions Between Fungi and Heritage Buildings - Sophie Downes
When: 5.30-6.15pm
Clore Lecture Theatre (B01), Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

This talk will focus on the airborne fungi that have been identified in UK heritage buildings and the damage that can be caused to organic collections, such as textiles, paper materials, wood and leather, if they were to be colonised.
Book your free place for this talk

Film screening: Resistance
and panel discussion: Tackling antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs
Panel speakers: Dr Sanjib Bhakta, Dr Jane Nicklin, Professor Nick Keep and Arundhati Maitra, Department of Biological Sciences.
When: 7.00-9.00pm
Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

Antibiotics were first mass-produced in the 1940s and their ability to fight and kill bacteria revolutionized medicine and profoundly impacted everything from agriculture to war. After less than 80 years, however, these miracle drugs are failing. Resistant infections kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year and there are now dozens of so-called Superbugs each with its own challenges and costs. How did this happen? Using microscopic footage, harrowing personal stories, and expert insights, Resistance clarifies the problem of antibiotic resistance, how we got to this point, and what we can do to turn the tide. (More about the film)

Book your free place for film screening and panel discussion.

Tuesday 4 April

On the Source of Human Irrationality - Professor Mike Oaksford, Department of Psychological Sciences .
When: 5.30-6.30pm

Where: Clore Lecture Theatre (B01), Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

Human reasoning and decision making are error prone. This is often attributed to a fast, phylogenetically old System 1. It is striking, however, that perceptuo-motor decision making in humans and animals is rational. These results are consistent with perceptuo-motor strategies emerging in Bayesian brain theory that also appear in human data selection. People seem to have access, although limited, to unconscious generative models that can generalise to explain other verbal reasoning results. Error does not emerge predominantly from System 1, but rather seems to emerge from the later evolved System 2 that involves working memory and language. However language also sows the seeds of error correction by moving reasoning into the social domain. This reversal of roles suggests key areas of theoretical integration and new empirical directions.
Book your free place for this talk


Wednesday 5 April - Rosalind Franklin Lecture - Attention, Nature and Nurture

We're delighted to welcome Professor Gaia Scerif, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Oxford, to give this year's lecture.

Attention, Nature and Nurture
When: 6.30-7.30pm

Where: Clore Lecture Theatre (B01), Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

Attention plays a crucial role in biasing incoming information in favour of what is relevant to our goals and actions. Developmental data illustrate how attention development is best understood as both influencing and influenced by prior experience. Data from children receiving early genetic diagnoses associated with high risk of attention deficits in late childhood suggest that early attention and its development over time predicts later behavioural deficits and classroom outcomes. Understanding the adverse effects of these attention difficulties also requires studying how attention gates learning over typical development. Here, our recent data highlight the interplay between attention, memory and learning. Children and young adults differ in the extent to which they deploy attention to optimize their memory. At the same time, attention effects are not unidirectional: previously learnt information guides later attention deployment, in adulthood and in childhood. In conclusion, assessing attention development, both in populations at high genetic risk for attention difficulties and over typical development, points to the dynamical interplay between attention and experience.

Book your free place for the Rosalind Franklin lecture.


Thursday 6 April - What controls the Earth's long-term climate?

A series of three talks by researchers from our Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
All talks will take place in Clore Lecture Theatre (B01), Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

Session 1 (5.30-6.45pm)
Book your free place for both talks in this session

Mechanisms for keeping the Earth habitable - Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann
The Earth has been inhabited by life for almost 90% of its existence. Given that life requires quite narrow conditions to survive, this implies that the Earth’s climate and environmental chemistry have been quite stable for around 4 billion years. This talk will examine the processes that may create a relatively stable climate.

Triggering the radiation of early animals - Tianchen He
Animal life only emerged after the oxygen content of the atmosphere and ocean increased dramatically roughly 700 million years age. However, the exact triggers that allow this fundamental change in life on Earth are still not clear. The talk will provide insights into the story of early animal evolution and resolve the plausible causes and consequences of the unprecedented Cambrian explosion.

Session 2 (7.15 - 8pm)
Understanding how and when Antarctica became a frozen continent - Professor Andy Carter

To fully understand the behaviour of the modern climate system and make projections of future change predictive models must be grounded in a natural context that includes variables that influence long-term global climate. In this context the talk will explore current understanding of how and when Antarctica first became a frozen continent.
Book your free place for the talk in this session.