☰  Cardiff Scientific Society

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The Antikythera Mechanism Decoded

Professor Mike Edmunds
Cardiff University

The Antikythera Mechanism may well be the most extraordinary surviving artefact from the ancient Greek world. It dates from around the beginning of the 1st century B.C., contains some thirty gearwheels and is an order of magnitude more complicated than any surviving mechanism from the following millennium. There is no surviving precursor. It is covered in fragmentary astronomical inscriptions, and is undoubtedly an astronomical calculating device. Despite ingenious investigations since its discovery in a shipwreck in 1900, its exact purpose and functions have remained both controversial and unclear. | have been collaborating in a major joint UK/Greek/USA project which has carried out extensive new work over the past year. Our methods include 3-dimensional x-ray tomography and surface imaging of all surviving fragments. This is leading to the decipherment of many previously unknown inscriptions, and a fresh reconstruction of the Mechanism's structure. I will describe how we are at last coming to an understanding of what the Mechanism is for, the genius behind it and its profound importance in the history of astronomy and technology.

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The Perfect Lens

Professor Sir John B. Pendry
Imperial College London

Our ability to control light is limited by the materials available to us. I shall introduce a new class of designer materials which refract light in an entirely novel manner and whose properties are engineered by controlling their nanostructure rather than their chemical composition. The new materials, often referred to as metamaterials, open new vistas in optics and offer the possibility of super-high resolution lenses that can resolve details finer than the wavelength of light. The concepts have applications across much of the electromagnetic spectrum and examples will be given ranging from magnetic resonance imaging up to optica frequencies.

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Embryonic Stem Cells

Professor Sir Martin J. Evans FRS
Cardiff University

Knowledge of genetics may have been seen to open Pandora's box. It is however nothing without practical cellular manipulations at both the somatic and germline level. This is what has been provided by embryonic stem cells - used in the mouse as a vector for germline genetic manipulation to provide an experimental mammalian genetics; and in man as a route towards somatic cellular therapies. So far genetic manipulation has proved easier than epigenetic manipulation, but it is quite clear that this will become possible. There may be practical as well as ethical problems. Prohibition is a bad option but regulation a good way forward.

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Brunel: Works in Wales

Stephen K. Jones
Institution of Civil Engineers Wales

This year, 2006, marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the most innovative of all Victorian engineers; Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59). Like others before him and since, Brunel was challenged by the landscape of Wales to develop innovative engineering solutions, working with Welsh industry in his pursuit of excellence. Brunel's first major engineering work, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, brought him to South Wales and his skills were recognised by the Merthyr ironmasters who engaged him to build the Taff Vale Railway. Other railways followed and his most important works were pioneered here in addition to timber structures of all descriptions (including his only timber work still carrying traffic today). This talk will illustrate how South Wales was important at virtually every stage of Brunel's career covering engineering, railways, docks and steamships.

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A Sustainable Engine for Economic Development in Wales

Professor Marc Clement
Swansea University

Innovation and science are two key elements in embedding a Knowledge Economy in the business and industry model for Wales. Only by encouraging those with an entrepreneurial spirit to apply their ideas in an innovative way can Wales find a fresh source of future prosperity, and new engines to drive the economy forward. Businesses based on individual expertise and the exploitation of intellectual capital are now poised to become the single most important determining factor in a country's standard-of-living.

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Monkeys Don't Keep Cattle. A New Look at Lactose, the Sugar in Milk

Professor Anthony K Campbell
Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff University and The Darwin Centre, Pembrokeshire

A staggering 4000 million people cannot digest lactose, the sugar in milk, properly. Too much lactose causes a range of gut and other symptoms, making life a misery. This is an incredible detective story, from personal anguish to a eureka moment, with the discovery of a revolutionary new mechanism explaining the cause of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, and also Charles Darwin's lifelong illness. Darwin missed something else - the Rubicon 300 million years ago leading to the origin of our own species. This story had another extraordinary consequence - Tony's lactose free cookbook - that has transformed the life of our family and several hundred patients who did not realise they were intolerant to lactose.

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Catalysis in Chemistry and Biochemistry

Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas FRS
University of Cambridge and the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory, The Royal Institution of Great Britain

The phenomenon of catalysis, though not known by its present name, was described by the ancient Greeks, and harnessed by Arab scientists centuries later to prepare ether from alcohol, which is itself the product of biological catalysis. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, catalysis is of vital importance in sustaining and improving human life. In terms intelligible to non-experts, the speaker will describe how and why the topic of catalysis continues to fascinate the academic and to underpin and stimulate many industrial developments in an age when clean technology and "green" processes are of central importance.

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Lord Phillips Memorial Lecture: AIDS as the Modern Plague

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
Imperial College London

The appearance of AIDS in the 1980s heralded a modern era which has seen the impact of an infectious disease on a scale that parallels earlier pandemics that changed human demography. This virus has shown that mankind's response, through a better understanding of basic science related to the infection closer understanding of the pathogenesis, can lead to rapidly developed interventions that can limit the huge human impact of this disease. However, the disease has also had major societal impacts and demonstrates the need for the close interaction of the science led response alongside a better understanding of our ability to implement and share the burden of a disease that disproportionably affects developing countries. It challenges everyone, not just those affected with the virus!

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Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions: Strats, Strads and Superstrings

Dr Mark Lewney
UK Patent Office, Newport and winner of FameLab 2005

What causes the revolutionary, history-changing sound of rock guitar, and how does it help us understand the nature of the entire universe? Dr. Lewney explains the physics of rock using riffs from Vivaldi to Queen and the theme from Bullseye, tells you the secret of the Stradivarius, and shows how string vibrations might lie at the heart of the answers to the Big Questions about the Big Bang and the dimensions of the universe. In this entertaining and mind-expanding lecture, acoustics expert Dr. Mark Lewney explains sound and vibrations with the help of props as diverse as an air-bazooka, a bullwhip and his custom Ibanez electric guitar through a 100W Marshall amp, turned up loud. You can find out how to make your own sonic boom, whether there really is a 'secret' to fabulously expensive antique violins, and how holograms allow us to 'see' the sound of a guitar. Then, after a whirlwind tour of the science of rock music, Dr. Lewney shows how the vibrations of guitar strings can be applied to the stuff we're all made of, but with a twist: the strings vibrate in extra dimensions! This introduction to 'Superstring Theory' even tries to answer to the ultimate question, "What was before the Big Bang?"

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Climate Change: Past, Present and Future

Professor Paul Pearson
Cardiff University

Human activity is changing the composition of the atmosphere and causing an enhanced greenhouse effect. However global temperatures and greenhouse gas levels have changed naturally in the past, over a variety of timescales. In this lecture Professor Pearson provides an overview of climate change from a geologist's perspective. He considers how we reconstruct past climates and atmospheric compositions across timescales that range from the ice ages back to the greenhouse world of the dinosaurs. Future predictions of climate change will then be considered in the light of past changes.

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Psychiatric Orchids

Dr M. David Enoch
Royal Liverpool University Hospital

An up to date definitive account of a number of colourful unusual but important clinical disorders that have significant legal and social implications. Their historical background and present day understanding are given together with their occurrence in the worldwide literature. The principal features of the conditions are described as well as their causation, underlying psychopathology and recent neurodiagnostic findings. Illustrative cases and notes on diagnosis, treatment and outcome are given. Forensic aspects are highlighted. These exotic syndromes will include: De Clerembault's Syndrome (associated with stalking), The Othello Syndrome (morbid jealousy), Munchausen's Syndrome (simulated but plausible illness). Associated with the controversial Munchausen's by Proxy, Folie a Deux (shared madness), The Capgras Syndrome (delusions of doubles) and Ekbom's Syndrome (delusional parasitosis) with BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). These are fascinating disorders of human behaviour.

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Origins of the Coroner System

Professor Bernard Knight
University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff

The office of coroner is at least eight hundred years old and possibly a few centuries more. Its origins are interesting in that it was primarily a financial institution, founded to raise money for Richard the Lionheart's ransom and foreign wars, but a number of other legal functions gave the medieval coroner a wide-ranging remit. Originally knights, the coroners were also introduced to curb the corrupt practices of the sheriffs and became the second most important law officers in the counties. Their duties included such diverse tasks as investigating sudden deaths, assaults, rapes, fires, wrecks and catches of the whale and sturgeon, as well as recording executions, ordeals and sanctuary-seekers. This lecture is dedicated to William O'Grady.