Past Colloquia

Below is a list of previous colloquia since Trinity Term 2013, covering a diverse range of topics from climate modelling and prediction to DNA origami. To see a list of upcoming colloquia click here.

Michaelmas Term 2014:

Week 1: Tuesday 14th October

Playing with Proteins

Matthew Bilyard

My research, and that of my group, is focussed around the fascinating (and occasionally frustrating) world of proteins. These huge molecules are fundamental to our existence; they carry out a vast and varied range of functions inside our bodies. We aim to modify proteins in non-natural ways, admittedly in part just to show we can, but ideally to further study them and use them in a range of applications. I hope to give an overview of what proteins are, how we make and modify them, and what we might use these modified proteins for - i.e. why we bother doing all this!

(I will aim to make this as accessible as possible to non-chemists/ biologists/ scientists, whilst hopefully keeping it interesting to those more familiar with the field...)

Organic Synthesis: Why Care?

Alexander White

“Enantioselective Total Synthesis of Natural Products” is one way of describing what I am currently working on. The talk will explain what this actually is/means and why it's important.

Week 3: Tuesday 28th October

3D World of Proteins

Belinda Faust

Billions of proteins fulfil almost every important task in our body being responsible for structural support of cells, body movements, catalysing important metabolic reactions or fighting germs. Since proteins only have a diameter of about 50 Å (0.000000005 m), we cannot observe their structure directly under a microscope. However, we can use a fancy technique called X-ray crystallography, which allows us to indirectly look at the three-dimensional shape of proteins. In my colloquium I will take you on a travel through the world of Structural Biology from the first protein structure and model of the DNA to how protein structures help in the discovery of drugs against Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or cancer.

Week 5: Tuesday 11th November

Medical Image Analysis, Maths and Cancer

Russell Bates

Since the introduction of clinical X-rays around the beginning of the 20th century, imaging has played an important role in medical diagnosis and assessment. In cancer, where early detection and staging can drastically improve patient prognosis, visualisation methods are vitally important for clinicians. Newer generations of imaging modalities such as Computed Tomography (CT), Dynamic Contrast Enhanced-MRI (DCE-MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) allow the visualisation of things which were previously unquantifiable in vivo such as O2 tension, glucose metabolism, micro-vascular perfusion and high resolution vascular architecture. In order to extract all available information from images rather than just assessing them qualitatively there is a movement to apply mathematical and computational techniques to these images. This is done in the hope that they will be more elucidating for clinicians or allow more rigorous hypothesis testing in basic science. In this talk I will outline the basics of some imaging modalities used in the visualisation of cancer, along with some of the mathematical analysis required to extract quantitative information from medical images.

Week 7: Tuesday 25th November

Coins and Ancient Greek History

Chris De L'Isle

In this evening's colloquium I intend to talk about the things that ancient coins can (and can't) tell us about ancient history. In the course of this talk I will offer a brief account of how coinage was made and used in the ancient world. Then I will discuss some of the ways in which the chronology, iconography, and distribution of coins can illuminate the past, using my own research on King Agathokles of Syracuse (317-289 BC) for practical examples.

Trinity Term 2014:

Week 1: Tuesday 29th April

Crime fiction and society: a comparative study

Rina Hay

The detective genre has been one of the most popular genres in both literature and television since its very inception, and has seen a particular resurgence in interest lately with the BBC’s new adapation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Many of us are familiar with the basic tropes of the detective story – however, the term “crime fiction” has quite different implications in other cultures and traditions. Come along for a brief talk on the relative merits of crime fiction in both the Western and Russian traditions, and some musings on what the differing conceptions of crime fiction can tell us about society.

Week 3: Tuesday 13th May

The Entitled Slave: An Investigation into the Ambiguous Status of Consecrated-Donated Slaves

John Daukas

Slavery has always been a controversial subject, and its manifestations and rationalizations are fascinating pieces of history. One of the most fundamental elements of slavery, the ownership of a person by another, has caused significant debate in almost every society. In our global modern culture, slavery is understood as a fundamental violation of human rights, and so legal slavery has been universally outlawed. The general acceptance of the institution in the ancient world, along with the inherent contradictions in having an entity classified as both a piece of property and a person, demonstrates a different concept of the person, one strange and obscure due to the separation of thousands of years of ideological development and change. In this paper, I will test the boundaries of the ancient concept of the slave through a corpus of inscriptions detailing the fascinating process of donating a person to a god, almost always a slave, and in doing so come to a better understanding of what it meant to be both enslaved and free.

Week 5: Tuesday 27th May

Artificial Photosynthesis: Creating Fuel from Sunlight

Bhavin Siritanaratkul

Plants can create carbohydrates just from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. Can we create fuel from sunlight as well? And why should we? I will give an introduction to artificial photosynthesis, followed by some examples from my research on semiconductor and enzyme-based materials that can produce hydrogen from water and sunlight. I will also discuss the outlook of artificial photosynthesis as a large-scale renewable energy source.

Week 7: Tuesday 10th June

Particle Theory after the Higgs

James Scargill, Jim Talbert, Rudi Rahn

July 2012 marked a turning point in our understanding of fundamental physics following the discovery of the Higgs Boson as the last piece in the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

But does that mean that particle physics is complete?

In this talk we attempt to justify our continued existence as particle theorists by exploring some of the yet unresolved questions in our physical narrative of the universe and its evolution.

Hilary Term 2014:

Week 0: Tuesday 14th January

The Limits of Political Ideology: A Case-Based Discussion

Matthew O'Kane

'Left-wing', 'right-wing', 'socialist', 'conservative', 'liberal', 'nationalist': these terms are prevalent, but how do they relate to contemporary politics? Do they limit our understanding of social and political phenomena? Can political ideology itself limit a society? Come along for an informal presentation and discussion about the impacts of ideology on people and politics.

Week 3: Tuesday 4th February

Topic: Marriage in Mind; Exploring the perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of Bangladeshi New Yorkers.

Popy Begum

Families predominantly arrange marriages in Bangladesh and individuals often have little say in the outcome. Religious and civil laws in the region dictate that consent in marriage is not only required from the prospective husband and wife, but is also the determining factor of a marriage’s validity. The biggest debate surrounding the long-standing tradition of arranged marriage today is that of consent, but cultural codes of honor and shame—in which unmarried women should not express individual desire—make it difficult to target where consent ends and coercion begins in a marriage. As a result, effective social policy to prevent forced marriages has suffered because of the inability of researchers to define the problem and estimate its size and scope. The primary aim and objective of this research is to compare, contrast and analyze the perceptions, attitudes, and experiences that Bangladeshi New Yorkers have about marriage as compared with Bangladeshis that live in the UK. To compare the two populations, the research will use data from research conducted in the UK over the last decade with more recent research that was conducted in 2012-2013 in New York City (NYC) with a similar population.

Week 6: Tuesday 25th February

Printing Tissue Mimics

Alexander Graham

Bioprinting, the layer by layer deposition of biomaterials from stem-cells to antibodies in predetermined positions is a rapidly emerging field of the last decade, with potential application including tissue engineering, wound healing, regenerative medicine and genomics[1]. Over the last two years my research has veered into this exciting field, when we developed a 3D printer of a tissue-like material (published in Science magazine[2], featured in the Economist[3] and Reuters news[4]). With this printer, we managed to construct networks in defined geometries containing up to - tens of thousands of - just larger than cell-sized droplets, with each droplet adhered to its neighbours by a single lipid bilayer. These highly compartmentalised networks were functionalised to conduct ionic current across the network and fold into new shapes using salt gradients, mimicing nervous and muscle tissue respectively. To explain tissue-like material development , I also give a background into droplet interface bilayer systems developed in the Bayley group [5], including how they can be used for single molecule recordings to turning water droplets into electric circuit components.

Week 8: Wednesday 12th March

Coming to a Dealership Near You: Self-Driving Cars

Will Maddern

In the past twelve months, several major car manufacturers have announced plans to develop and sell self-driving cars for consumers as early as 2020. Self-driving cars are poised to become the next "killer app" for mobile robotics, and have been a hot topic of research and development in the robotics community for the past decade. In this informal talk I will give a mostly pictorial overview of the history of the self-driving car, along with insights about the difficult research problems that have been, and remain to be, solved before widespread adoption. In particular I will cover the MRG Robotcar developed by the Oxford Mobile Robotics Group, currently the only autonomous vehicle driven on UK roads. I also hope to provoke a discussion on the wider economic, ethical and social impacts of autonomous transport systems of the future.

Week 9: Tuesday 18th March

Topic: Too Cool For School? How learning practices have changed since you were in the classroom.

Austin Kettle & Louise Knight

An edition of Bad Education was BBC3's most watched single episode in 2013. Tough Young Teachers has stormed up the rankings charts. Even David Walliams has tried to get in on the trend with his atrocious and critically panned 'Big School'. Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire have gone further still and taken us right inside the classroom.

There is something about school we just can't seem to leave behind; more precisely, there are many things - a plethora of memories and inventions - which draw us to these shows. But behind the slick editing, coarse joking and high production values, what is actually going on in our schools?

Louise Knight MA (Oxon) and Austin Kettle BA Exon, PGCE, LAD (Oxon) invite you to an evening of liberal re-education. Come and find out why a kid would declare 'LO I can use a semicolon accurately' like a punctilious cherubim; why teachers fear the number 4; and how the diversification of training routes is affecting the expectations of the undergrads you teach. Come for an evening of recollection, revelation, and (hopefully) witty repartee.