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 22 October 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr. Stefanie Ullmann, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Centre for Humanities and Social Change

In this talk, I explore quarantining as a more ethical method for delimiting the spread of Hate Speech via online social media platforms. Currently, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google generally respond reactively to such material: offensive messages that have already been posted are reviewed by human moderators if complaints from users are received. The offensive posts are only subsequently removed if the complaints are upheld; therefore, they still cause the recipients psychological harm. In addition, this approach has frequently been criticised for delimiting freedom of expression, since it requires the service providers to elaborate and implement censorship regimes. In the last few years, an emerging generation of automatic Hate Speech detection systems has started to offer new strategies for dealing with this particular kind of offensive online material. Anticipating the future efficacy of such systems, the present article advocates an approach to online Hate Speech detection that is analogous to the quarantining of malicious computer software. If a given post is automatically classified as being harmful in a reliable manner, then it can be temporarily quarantined, and the direct recipients can receive an alert, which protects them from the harmful content in the first instance. The quarantining framework is an example of more ethical online safety technology that can be extended to the handling of Hate Speech. Crucially, it provides flexible options for obtaining a more justifiable balance between freedom of expression and appropriate censorship.

Thursday 24 October 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Toby Jackson - Cambridge Conservation Initiative

Wind impacts trees and forests in two ways: (1) through direct damage and (2) by causing them to adapt their growth forms. The effects of wind are relatively well understood in plantation forests, where they can have severe economic impacts. I will discuss how knowledge and techniques from the plantation industry can be transferred to tropical forests, and so aid conservation efforts. I will also give an overview the relevant research on this topic and outline future research directions.

Tuesday 29 October 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Joshua Batts, Research Associate, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

In 1616, a Japanese galleon glided into Acapulco. It was the third time a Japanese vessel had done so that decade, flummoxing Spanish officialdom in Manila, Mexico City, and Madrid. It turned out to be the last; the final act in Tokugawa Japan’s two-decade effort to puncture the Spanish monopoly on trans-Pacific commerce. The Spanish Empire rebuffed this effort, successfully defending its commercial and navigational prerogative. But the Japanese repaid in kind, and within a decade Spaniards were no longer permitted in Japan. In this talk, I explore how this little-known attempt at outreach helps redefine our idea of what constitutes diplomacy and how it deepens our understanding of the frictions inherent to early modern encounters.

Thursday 31 October 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Michael Fernandopulle - Cambridge Institute for Medical Research

Abstract not available

Tuesday 5 November 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Andrew Dunning, Munby Visiting Fellow in Bibliography, Faculty of History

What clues do we have to help us tell the stories of people who lived hundreds of years ago? This paper traces the journey of a 13th-century manuscript at Cambridge University Library (Gg.6.42) from Cirencester Abbey in Gloucestershire to Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire. At first glance, this book would seem to be a dead end for learning about the mysterious Geoffrey who wrote it in the 1240s. We will see how it is possible to combine textual, material, and archival evidence to identify this person and discover a story of political intrigue that surrounds this book.

Thursday 7 November 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Isobel Rowell

Ice cores hold valuable information about Earth's past climate, which help us to better understand climate processes on long timescales and ultimately inform and refine future projections of climate.
I'm part of the WACSWAIN ice core project. WACSWAIN is interested in the Last Interglacial period (~113,000 years ago) when the Earth was around 2 degrees C warmer and sea levels several metres higher than today. This represents an interesting target of investigation; to understand what led to this sea level rise e.g. whether or not the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed or retreated and by how much, would help us to make better predictions about potential sea level rise as a result of anthropogenic climate change.
My research looks at the last glacial cycle (115,000 years ago to present) and I am hoping to pick apart how the climate varied across Antarctica during this time. My work will include a trip to the West Antarctic island, Sherman Island, in January 2020, where I will make use of the British Antarctic Survey's Rapid Access Isotope Drill, and I will drill ice down to 420m in just a few days.

Tuesday 12 November 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Augusto Lopez-Claros, the World Bank Group

Gender discrimination is often seen from a human rights perspective; it is a violation of women’s basic human rights, as embedded in the Universal Declaration, the UN Charter and other such founding documents. However, there is overwhelming evidence that restrictions and various forms of discrimination against women are also bad economics. They undermine the talent pool available to the private sector, they distort power relationships within the family and lead to inefficiencies in the use of resources. They contribute to create an environment in which women, de facto, are second class citizens, with fewer options than men, lower quality jobs, lower pay, often the victims of various forms of violence, literally from the cradle to the grave. They are also not fully politically empowered and have scant presence in the corridors of power, whether as finance ministers, central bank governors, prime ministers or on the boards of leading corporations. Why is gender inequality so pervasive? Where does it come from? Does it have cultural and religious roots? And what are the sorts of policies and values that will deliver a world in which being born a boy or a girl is no longer a measure of the likelihood of developing one’s human potential? A look at some of these and other such difficult questions

Thursday 14 November 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Laura Pellegrini - MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Abstract not available

Thursday 21 November 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Lucy MacGregor - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Abstract not available

Thursday 28 November 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Arthur Davis - Centre for Gender Studies

Abstract not available

Thursday 5 December 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Anna Maria Ranzoni - Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute/Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Abstract not available

Past Research Talks

Thursday 16 May 2019
Dr Chrispin Chaguza (Wellcome Sanger Institute, Cambridge)

Bacterial evolution is a never-ending process and such innovation can lead to adaptation to clinical interventions such as antibiotics and vaccines thereby making them less effective. Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) is a human-adapted opportunistic pathogen once assigned the moniker “Captain of the men of death” by Sir William Osler because of its high death toll globally. Despite significant reduction of the invasive pneumococcal diseases (IPD) over the last two decades due to the introduction of effective higher-valent pneumococcal vaccines (PCVs), IPDs continue to kill hundreds of thousands of people globally. In this talk, I will describe colonisation dynamics, genomic diversity and evolution of the pneumococcus during persistent colonisation episodes in infants from a low-income and tropical Sub Saharan African setting with high carriage and disease burden during the first year of life.

Tuesday 14 May 2019
Alev Sen, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge

In 2013, the four UK health departments launched a collaborative UK Strategy for Rare Diseases, which included outlining a shared vision ‘to ensure no one gets left behind just because they have a rare disease’ (Department of Health, 2013). At the time, this formal recognition of concerns about equity and social justice in UK healthcare for patients with rare diseases was heralded as a ‘landmark’ by campaigners. Since then, whilst some changes have been welcomed as improvements, the persistence of problems, such as delays in diagnosis, restricted funding of medicines, and patchy local provision, remain on the agenda. This talk will explore the formation and impact of campaigning on rare diseases in contemporary UK healthcare. Questions considered will include: How are ‘rare diseases’ defined and constituted? And what forms of systematic disadvantage are they associated with? Rare diseases, as an emergent site of activism, may illuminate new and pressing factors effecting the distribution of healthcare in the UK today.

Alev Sen is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

Thursday 9 May 2019
Dr Adrian Weller (Machine Learning Group, Cambridge)

Algorithmic systems are increasingly deployed in ways that affect millions of lives. How can we be sure that we can trust them? We’ll discuss this theme and describe technical work on effective measures of trustworthiness, including fairness, transparency and privacy, which we should require in order to ensure beneficial outcomes for society.

Tuesday 7 May 2019
Stephanie Metzger, Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

World energy demand is rising year by year as populations increase and emerging economies continue their rapid expansion. Coal, historically a major source of energy, has continued to remain a major player in the power mix despite concerns about its greenhouse emissions and effects on global climate change. While western countries have begun to move away from coal, developing countries such as China and India are driving demand on international coal markets and increasing their use of coal for electricity generation. Balancing the often competing interests of sustainability and economic development is a difficult policy question, with political, economic, and technological factors to consider.

Stephanie is pursuing an MPhil in Public Policy. Her independent research focuses on energy and technology policy, especially in developing countries.

Thursday 2 May 2019
Dr Souvik Roy (Chemistry Department, Cambridge)

Molecular hydrogen is the ultimate clean fuel due to its extremely high energy density and its clean combustion to water. However, the challenge lies to produce it sustainably from water, which requires catalysts to lower the kinetic energy barrier. Molecular catalysts based on non-precious metals fascinates synthetic chemists the most due to their tunability which allows us to tailor the structure and control their properties. However, molecular catalysts are somewhat disadvantaged by practical consideration because they often function in homogeneous solution and display limited long-term stability. Having an effective scaffold to mount the catalyst on, representing 'heterogenisation' of the molecule, is a key part of building a practical system that brings together the benefits of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. Metal-organic framework, a type of crystalline material composed of metal clusters connected by organic linkers, offers a step further by allowing us to build tunable three-dimensional architecture by using molecules as the building blocks. In this talk, I will explore how the metal-organic framework enables us to transfer the chemistry of molecular catalysts into a solid material while still enjoying the benefits of heterogenous catalysis.

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