☰  Cardiff Scientific Society

Trinity - the exposure and pursuit of Klaus Fuchs, the most dangerous spy in history

Professor Frank Close
Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford

5th October 2022

Trinity was the codename for the test explosion of the atomic bomb in New Mexico on 16 July 1945. Frank tells the story of the bomb's metaphorical father - Oxford professor, Rudolf Peierls; Peierls' intellectual son, the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs; and the ghosts of the security services in Britain, the USA and USSR. Frank has found new insights from MI5 files in the National Archives and documents of the FBI and KGB about Fuchs' treachery. These reveal that in addition to telling the Soviet Union everything about the atomic bomb, Fuchs passed key information about the H bomb much earlier than previously realised. Frank has also discovered that Fuchs was not exposed by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, as has been believed for decades, but by the cryptographers at GCHQ. The talk is based on Frank's book Trinity, published by Penguin in paperback.

The Science of Laughter

Professor Sophie Scott
Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London

19th October 2022

Laughter is a non-verbal emotional expression: although we associated laughter with amusement, laughter has its roots in mammalian play vocalizations, and is associated with social interactions. In this talk I will explore the evolution of laughter, the ways that it is used by humans and other mammals, and some of the complexities of how our brains process laughter. I will argue that laughter is used by adult humans in a highly nuanced way, and that scientists should be paying more attention to laughter.

Gene, Mechanism, Treatment: The Paradigm of Tuberous Sclerosis

Prof. Julian Sampson
Professor of Medical Genetics, Cardiff University

16th November 2022 (rearranged from 2/11/22)

Understanding of the relationships between genomic variation and health and disease is incomplete, but improving fast. These relationships are at their simplest in rare inherited conditions, sometimes referred to as Mendelian or monogenic diseases. In this talk, I will use the example of one of these diseases - tuberous sclerosis - to illustrate how phases of molecular genetic, biochemical, preclinical and clinical research can lead to the successful acquisition and translation of new knowledge to deliver a novel treatment.

A Journey Towards Artificial Antibodies

Professor Subrayal Reddy
Professor of Biomaterials, University of Central Lancashire

30th November 2022

Antibodies are produced by the body and can play a crucial role in the natural immune response to harmful substances such as viruses, bacteria and chemicals. Antibodies are also being used widely in diagnostics and sensors to detect infection and disease. Who hasn't taken an antibody-based lateral flow test in the last 2 years?! Their application in diagnostics presents issues related to their ethical sourcing, cost of production, temperature and pH stability. Synthetic receptors such as molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) are being intensively researched as stable and low-cost alternatives to biological antibodies in diagnostic and medical imaging applications. They can be rapidly produced (in a matter of hours) and these smart materials offer the promise of replacing antibodies in diagnostics and therapeutics. In this Lecture, I will introduce synthetic receptors focusing on MIPs, how they are synthesised and are being used, and speculate on what the future holds for them.

Our Amazing Sun

Professor Eric Priest
Emeritus Professor, University of St Andrews

14th December 2022

Our Sun is worthy of study due to its profound influence on the Earth and its fundamental importance for astronomy as the only star that we can see closely. And yet, many of its basic properties are still a mystery, including the ways in which its atmosphere is heated to over a million degrees and huge eruptions and solar flares are produced, which can have major effects at Earth. Many of the surprises that we have discovered are due to its magnetic field, which interacts in a subtle and complex way with its atmosphere. I plan in this lecture to introduce you to the basic properties of the Sun, to share with you the excitement of a solar eclipse and to reveal some of the major puzzles that we are hoping to solve in future.

Self-Repairing Cities

Professor Mark Miodownik
Professor of Materials & Society, University College London

18th January 2023

Sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry

As a result of our greater understanding of matter, the distinction between animate and inanimate matter is now becoming blurred, ushering in a new materials age. Bionic people with synthetic organs, bones and even brains are becoming a reality. Just as we are becoming more synthetic, so our man-made environment is changing to become more life-like: buildings, objects, materials that heal-themselves are being developed. This talk reviews the science behind these new animate material technologies and considers whether a particular goal, that of creating self-repairing cities to make our civilization more robust to climate change, is achievable.

Can we predict how pharmaceuticals will crystallize?

Professor Sally Price
Professor of Physical Chemistry, University College London

1st February 2023

Sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry

Crystal Structure Prediction (CSP) methods assume that an organic molecule will crystallize in its most stable structure. Implementing CSP is a challenge to computational chemistry, as shown by the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre's blind tests. Polymorphism adds additional challenges, as this is usually a kinetic phenomenon, with metastable polymorphs being unable to transform to the most stable structure, which may be slow to crystallise for the first time. CSP is used as an aid to polymorph screening, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry. However, the crystal energy landscape, the set of crystal structures that are thermodynamically plausible as polymorphs, usually includes more crystal structures than known polymorphs. This can be due to the approximations in the calculations, but sometimes the prediction of a putative polymorph can allow the design of a specific experiment to find it. Many pharmaceuticals and chiral compounds challenge our understanding of crystallization.

Mapping immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in COVID-19 and Long Covid

Professor Danny Altmann
Professor of Immunology, Imperial College London

8th February 2023

Sponsored by the Royal Society of Biology

Since the start of the pandemic we have studied cohorts across several countries to evaluate immunity at the level of antibodies, neutralisation and B and T cell memory to understand differential immune patterns due to vaccination and infection. At this stage in the pandemic, immune imprinting due to different exposures (different vaccines, timings and numbers of doses overlaid by different infection episodes with diverse variant sequences) means that people have diverse immune repertoires, with associated implications for immunity to new variants. In this context it has become considerably more challenging to define true correlates of protection. A pressing, related challenge is to define immune parameters associated with the diverse symptom profiles of Long Covid.

Catalysis with Gold

Professor Graham Hutchings
Regius Professor of Chemistry, Cardiff University

15th February 2023

Catalysis is of crucial importance for the manufacture of the materials and infrastructure and underpins the way of life we enjoy today. In this way catalysis contributes towards over 25% of global domestic product. Hence designing new catalysts is a topic of intense research and economic interest. For example, the identification that gold in nanoparticulate form is an exceptionally effective redox catalyst has paved the way for a new class of active catalysts. Gold is the most active catalyst for acetylene hydrochlorination, an important reaction in the manufacture of vinyl chloride which is the monomer for PVC production. Recent research on this will be described. In particular the innovations that were required to enable its commercialization will be described. Alloying gold with other metals can enhance the activity and these catalysts are effective for the direct synthesis of hydrogen peroxide which can be used for water disinfection.

We are made of star stuff

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Visiting Academic, University of Oxford

1st March 2023

Sponsored by the Institute of Physics

Where did the chemical elements that are found in our bodies come from? In this talk I will describe the creation of the chemical elements in the Big Bang that started our Universe, in stars, and in stellar explosions and collisions.

The response to COVID

Professor Sir John Bell
Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford

15th March 2023

This lecture will be delivered virtually via Zoom - a link will be sent to members. Please do not turn up to the lecture theatre.

Gene editing: The future of dementia treatments?

Professor Vincent Dion
Dementia Research Institute, Cardiff University

22nd March 2023

Dementias remain a significant societal burden and their treatment remains a major unmet medical need. Many forms of dementia are genetic in nature, meaning that they are caused by changes in the inherited DNA sequence. Recent technologies, including CRISPR-Cas9, enable changing the DNA sequence inside brain cells. It is therefore becoming possible to restore the proper function of brain cells and thereby slowing, preventing, or perhaps even reversing disease symptoms and progression. This lecture will discuss the state of this revolution and present our own work on developing a gene editing approach to treat Huntington's disease.