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

Tuesday 28 November 2017
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Elian Bar-El, Department of Sociology

[NOTE CHANGE OF SPEAKER AND TOPIC] Ever since the beginning of the 21st century, Žižek has been considered both a worldwide prominent thinker and a militant intellectual. Deemed by some as the most dangerous philosopher is the West, and by others as one of the world's best-known public intellectuals, he has a journal, dictionary, and a nightclub named after him. How can we account for the rise to prominence of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek? From peripheral Slovenia, lacking prestigious academic credentials, without proper intellectual elegancy, this quirky Hegelo-Lacanian has nevertheless firmly placed himself at the epicentre of today’s global intellectual landscape. By using a performative framework and positioning theory I will explore this phenomenon sociologically, and will render it intelligible by carefully tracing the causal links of this exceptional emergence. Walking between the (battle-) lines of biography and history, the sociological account which highlights interventions might, in turn, also inform us about the societal condition under which such intellectual activity is taking place.

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

Tuesday 17 October 2017
Sam Ottewill-Soulsby, Faculty of Classics

The idea of a mythical first city appears in most societies that possess urban settlements, and medieval Europe was no exception. This talk will discuss the way medieval writers approached the origins of urban living, a subject which acquired importance in a wide variety of areas of study, including history writing, philosophy and legal theory. People who engaged with the problem had to reckon with both the Biblical first city of Cain and anthropological models inherited from the Classical world. Examination of how these writers solved these issues sheds light not just on their understanding of the primordial past, but also their views of the city and human civilisation as a whole.

Thursday 12 October 2017
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.

Tuesday 10 October 2017
Daniel H. Weiss, Polonsky-Coexist Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies in the Faculty of Divinity

Many scholars today view the causing the death of innocent civilians in warfare as an established part of historical Western tradition of just war, so long as those deaths are 'merely foreseen, but not directly intended'. This attitude towards 'collateral damage' or 'double effect' is often traced back to Thomas Aquinas. However, I argue that, contrary to received scholarly assumptions, Aquinas in fact sharply rejects the legitimacy of such forms of killing. Accordingly, premodern Western thought regarding just war may stand in a much sharper discontinuity with modern just war ethics than has previously been recognized, with significant potential implications for contemporary public debates and ethical dilemmas.

Thursday 5 October 2017
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] [2] [3]

Thursday 25 May 2017
Shehar Bano, University College London

Censorship of online communications threatens principles of openness and freedom of information on which the Internet was founded. In the interest of transparency and accountability, and more broadly to develop scientific rigour in the field, we need methodologies to measure and characterize Internet censorship. Such studies will not only help users make informed choices about information access, but also illuminate entities involved in or affected by censorship; informing the development of policy and enquiries into the ethics and legality of such practices. However, many issues around Internet censorship remain poorly understood because of the inherently adversarial and opaque landscape in which it operates. As details about mechanisms and targets of censorship are usually undisclosed, it is hard to define exactly what comprises censorship, and how it operates in different contexts.

My research aims to help fill this gap by developing methodologies to derive censorship ground truth using active and passive data analysis techniques, which I apply to real-world datasets to uncover entities involved in censorship, the targets of censorship, and the effects of such practices on different stakeholders. In this talk, I will provide an overview of my work on Internet censorship from multiple perspectives: (i) measurement of the Great Firewall of China that shows that inference of the censor’s traffic analysis model can enable systematic identification of evasion opportunities that users can exploit to access restricted content, (ii) analysis of network logs collected at an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Pakistan over a period of escalating censorship to study how censorship affects users’ browsing habits with respect to circumvention, and its economic effects on content providers and ISPs, and (iii) investigation of differential treatment -- an emerging class of censorship where websites (rather than the government) block requests of users they don’t like -- in the context of Tor anonymity network and users of adblocking software.

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