☰  Cardiff Scientific Society

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Chocolate Myths and Facts: How Good is it for You?

Professor John Harwood
Cardiff University

Chocolate, in various guises, has been eaten or drunk for some 400 years. The essential ingredients are cocoa solids and cocoa butter to which (according to the type of chocolate) other ingredients are added. Cocoa butter contains a unique blend of fats that are essential for the "feel good" properties of chocolate. The uniqueness also makes cocoa butter rather expensive! Cocoa solids contain theobromine and other natural chemicals which have pharmacological properties. While the evidence that some of these properties make chocolate an aphrodisiac tends to be anecdotal(!) there is no doubt that the selective, stimulatory, effect of chocolate on tissue metabolism is real. The lecture will describe what chocolate is, how it is made, and the various potential health benefits of moderate consumption.

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Touchdown on Titan

Professor John C. Zarnecki
Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, The Open University

After an interplanetary journey of 7¼ years, the European Space Agency's probe Huygens landed on the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, having been released from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, on 14th January 2005. Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury, is the only planetary satellite in the entire Solar System to possess a significant atmosphere. Most interestingly, it appears that Titan's atmosphere is the site of a whole range of chemical reactions which produce increasingly complex hydrocarbon molecules as might have occurred in Earth's early atmosphere over 4 billion years ago. The journey of the Huygens probe will be described as well as its final dramatic plunge to the surface. Results will be presented as well as prospects for future missions.

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The Lord Phillips Memorial Lecture: Information Technology Futures

Dr David Grant CBE
Cardiff University

Almost two billion personal computers are in use worldwide today, yet the first appeared just a little over three decades ago. Furthermore, one billion people today are Internet users, and two and a half billion people have mobile phones. Some 99.9 percent of all new information is created and stored on digital media. More than ten exabytes (1018 bytes) of new information is generated per annum, and there is a 30 percent annual growth rate. These statistics reflect recent and remarkable technological progress in such fields as semiconductor devices, magnetic storage, optical storage, optical communications and wireless networks, Rapid technological advances have spawned a huge variety of personal and professional IT products and services that have changed many aspects of our lives. Is the pace of technological advance sustainable, and what new IT applications might emerge?

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Animal Intelligence

Professor John M. Pearce
Cardiff University

Animals have many intellectual skills. They can remember large amounts of information, learn how to solve problems, communicate with each other, and navigate accurately over large distances. To what extent do these abilities reflect the operation of a sophisticated intelligence? In addressing this question I shall describe some of my own research that has studied how animals form concepts, and how they navigate. I shall argue that instances of apparently sophisticated intelligence are often a consequence of the operation of relatively simple mechanisms.

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Life on Chips

Professor Paul Smith
Cardiff University

Development of the "cell theory" that living organisms are composed of cells or substances made by cells is a principle of biology equal in importance to the atomic theory of chemistry. It allows us to relate complex biochemical and genetic behaviour to cellular units allowing important advances in research, diagnostics and development of new medicines. Working at this cellular level requires new methods, such as using light to reach down to this level and beyond. The production of optical tools for analysing cells on a chip is bridging the gap between research and applications in the fight against major diseases. These include microlasers to programme cells, the use of fluorescent proteins to reveal the cell's life cycle and engineered metal nano-particles to track cell behaviour. The presentation will include visual demonstrations of the power of biophotonic tools and what they reveal about cell behaviour in health and disease.

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All Things Bright and Beautiful: Learning Optics in Nature's Classroom

Dr Peter Vukusic
Exeter University

The brightest creatures are the most eye-catching and scientists over the centuries have wondered at the origin of brilliant colours and patterns in animals and plants. More recently, interest in technological optics and photonics has accelerated and an enormous research effort is aimed at manipulating photon flow for industrial applications. Understanding the extent of ingenuity and engineering expertise with which nature controls colour is showing us how we can learn about and apply optics. Although biological systems have evolved for biological purposes, they offer inspiration and design protocols for our applied photonic technologies. The lecture will present an overview of the knowledge of this emerging field of study and recent discoveries that reflect nature's optical expertise and design ingenuity.

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Early Origins of Psychiatric Disorder & Behaviour: Life in the Womb & the Effect of Genes

Professor Anita Thapar
Cardiff University

The risk for many common diseases begins in the womb. Some of this risk is attributable to inherited genetic influences, but environmental factors also play an important role. There is growing evidence that adversity experienced in the womb is important. Early factors such as exposure to poor nutrition or cigarette smoking in the womb all appear to have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health in childhood and later adult life. How genes and environment work together in contributing to health and disease is highly complex. A Cardiff study that uses a novel strategy based on families using in-vitro fertilisation provides a unique opportunity to disentangle genetic and intrauterine influences.

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New Light on Old Masters: Using Different Wavelengths to Explore the Materials and Structure of Easel Paintings

Kate Lowry
National Museum Wales

Using different light wave-lengths to examine easel paintings enables the Conservator to glean a lot of information without resorting to more expensive forms of analysis. Ultra-violet light, X-rays and Infra-red light can provide information about the various layers within the structure of the painting, and polarised light can help with pigment identification. The talk will cover all aspects of this type of examination and will be illustrated by examples drawn from the paintings collection held at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff.

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Hypoxic Homer and his Incredible Pea-Brain

Professor Damien Miles Bailey
University of Glamorgan

The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to a lack of oxygen which is considered the primary stimulus for the initiation and propagation of damaging free radical reactions. As a consequence, the brain becomes "sore and swollen" and the way it fits inside your skull may have implications for the patho- physiology of migraine and stroke. The "loose-fit" "pea-brain" appears to be neuro-protective... and may also improve your chances of reaching the summit of Mount Everest!

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Little or Large? Nature Reserves for the Future

Dr Madeleine Havard
Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales

Chief Executive, Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales What are nature reserves for? Does size matter? What sort of nature reserves will we need for the future? These questions are ones that are challenging current thinking in both policy and practical aspects of nature conservation and land management. This talk will explore the purpose of nature reserves in the context of a changing environment, and investigate a number of innovative projects that are underway to ensure their continued relevance to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

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Earth's Fiery Future

Professor Bill McGuire
Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre

The Earth is a single system of complex interactions, involving the atmosphere, the oceans and the rock beneath our feet. The huge weight of continental ice sheets can keep in check volcanoes and geological faults, but at the end of an ice age, as the ice melts, eruptions and earthquakes happen. The water from the ice causes sea levels to rise and the deposition of a huge weight of water on the margins of the continents causes volcanic eruptions and submarine landslides leading to tsunamis. Seasonally, tonnes of water move around in the oceans and cause stress in the earth's crust, thus triggering eruptions. Earthquake-generating faults in the earth's crust may respond to changes in the weather. Global warming will accelerate all these effects.

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The God Particle

Professor Jim AI-Khalili
University of Surrey

In 2008, it is hoped that particle physics history will be made in a 27km circular tunnel deep beneath the Alps. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN smashes together particles that are moving at 99.999999% of the speed of light, in the search for evidence for the tiniest components of the Universe. The one particle that physicists hope to find is so important in explaining the subatomic world that it has been dubbed the "God particle". What is it and what does it mean if it is found (or indeed if it is not found)?