5th March 2018 – Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

This discussion will be led by Emma Vernon, of the N(ational) N(uclear) L(aboratory).  In Emma’s words: “The UK has expressed an interest in the potential deployment of Small Modular Reactor technology as a means to help address the energy trilemma – the need to ensure a secure and affordable supply of low carbon energy.  An SMR programme could represent the opportunity for UK nuclear companies to design, manufacture and build next generation reactors to meet this need, and complement the UK’s large scale reactor programme including existing and new nuclear build.

There are many different types of SMR but all face the same challenge – the need to prove themselves both from a technical and economic point of view. This talk will explore some of these challenges.”

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5th February 2018 – Gene Editing

The Brave New World of CRISPR Gene Editing

The session will be led by Professor Matthew Cobb, professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester.

Over the last five years, biology and medicine have been shaken by the discovery of a new way of easily and quickly editing genes, which goes by the acronym CRISPR. In this talk Matthew explains the science behind this new technology and describes the conflict between research groups in their quest for fame and money. The key part of the talk focuses on the huge ethical challenges posed by CRISPR. This technology enables us to change the genes of human beings for both good and ill, above all it gives us the possibility of changing the entire ecosystem.

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8th January 2018 – Cryptography: past, present and future

UPDATE (Feb 2018): Alan described a way of creating passwords which are (probably) more secure than those most people currently use. Here is a link to a paper Alan wrote last year describing the method: Passwwords. Note that depending on your browser settings, this may actually download the (Word) document. It’s perfectly safe, but you can always virus check it before opening it.

SciBarian Alan Daglish will lead the session.  He offers this introduction to the topic:

Practically every day of our modern lives we use some form of cryptography. Online banking and shopping, email, ATMs, booking holidays etc., etc. Mostly it is invisible to us but it is in fact the product of nearly three thousand years of development

Since the invention of writing there has been a need to prevent information being read by the “opposition”. The Greeks had secret writing and Julius Caesar employed it widely. Wherever encryption was employed to protect communications there always existed a group of people whose aim was to defeat it. By the renaissance there was an arms race between the encrypters and the decrypters culminating in a cypher developed in the sixteenth century that was only broken in the nineteenth century.

The second world war saw the mechanisation of cryptography culminating in the development of the first programmable computer for decryption.

The computer age resulted in severe problems for cryptographers until, in the seventies a scheme was developed that would take “the age of the universe” to crack. This is about where we are now but with quantum computers on the horizon who knows?

The talk will explore the history as well as the uses and abuses of modern cryptography.

To give you some fun before the session, Alan has prepared a description of himself in an encrypted form:

L dp qrw d surihvvlrqdo fu|swrjudskhu. L dfwxdoo| vshqw prvw ri p| zrunlqj olih dv d phwdooxujlfdo hqjlqhhu, pdlqo| lq U dqg G. P| lqwhuhvw lq wkh vxemhfw vwhpv iurp uhdglqj d sdshu rxwolqlqj wkh edvlv ri prghuq fu|swrjudsk| lq wkh :3’v dqg iurp wkhq ghoylqj edfn lqwr wkh klvwru| ri wkh vxemhfw. P| fxuuhqw lqwhuhvw lv wr gr zlwk wkh sklorvrsklfdo dqg srolwlfdo lpsolfdwlrqv ri “vhfuhw zulwlqj”.

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4th December 2017 – DNA in Medicine

The promises, challenges and everyday application of DNA in Medicine


Jamie Ellingford

Dr Jamie Ellingford will be talking about the latest technology and software available to generate and analyse big DNA datasets, and discuss the promises, challenges and everyday applications of these techniques in a clinical environment.

Jamie recently completed his PhD at the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine, which is 1 of 13 Genome Medicine Centres in the UK, and is a joint centre between the University of Manchester and the Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust.

His PhD was focused on the bioinformatics and large-scale analysis of genomic datasets for rare disorders, including visual, cardiac and metabolic diseases. He is one of a team of bioinformaticians who process, analyse and interpret the big genomic datasets that are generated to assist in the diagnosis of genetic disorders. His postdoctoral research is moving towards the challenges presented by sequencing the complete human genome for rare disorders.

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6th November 2017 – On The Face Of It

Surfaces and Interfaces in Chemistry, Physics and Medicine

Dr Andrew Thomas of the School of Materials, Photon Science Institute, The University of Manchester will be presenting this topic.

Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas

Every solid or liquid has a surface. We probably take this for granted, but the surface of a material is particularly special. It is via the surface that the material interacts with its surroundings; so the surface is where corrosion begins, and it is what governs whether a medical implant will be populated by cells, or will prevent bacterial adhesion. In the chemical industry, tonnes of catalyst material are used in a vast array of processes, and in many cases it is the surface which governs their effectiveness – more recently, novel solar energy harvesting devices have been developed which rely on functionalisation of the surface, and which transfer a charge across an interface. This talk looks at what makes the surface of a material different from the bulk, and how research takes into account the nature of surface chemistry and physics to carry out specific functions.

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4th September 2017 – Building Biological Batteries

This topic will be presented by Nick Fowler, a Biophysics PhD student at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.

In Nick’s own words: “Nature has had billions of years to evolve the various life processes that constitute life. As a result, these processes are very sophisticated. For example, consider photosynthesis. Photosynthesis exploits quantum mechanics to convert sunlight into energy, at ambient temperatures, extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and with oxygen as the only waste product. In my opinion, these life processes, as engineered by nature, outshine humanity’s best attempts to create environmentally friendly technology. We have a lot to learn from biology. Biotechnology is a rapidly growing field looking to do just that, by re-engineering biological processes to create products or technology, previously unobtainable or in a more environmentally friendly way. This talk will introduce enzyme catalysed fuel cells, devices which use enzymes taken from fungi or bacteria to generate electricity from hydrogen and oxygen, with only water as a waste product.”

Picture for Sept 17


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