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This year's programme was a good mixture of applications of science and technology to practical problems, one on the 'history' of science, and others with a medical bias.



The first lecture, on 16 October 2017, was given by Professor Robert Young, FRS, FREng who added the subtitle “When Science Meets Politics” to his original title 'Engineering with Graphene'. His talk illustrated the interplay between scientific discoveries, their application, and the desire of politicians to be seen to be “picking winners” in technology. Professor Young also described The National Graphene Institute, a collaborative graphene research facility of the University of Manchester, with £65m UK Government and EU funding, which was announced in 2011, with the remit of applying the material in engineering and technology. He expected key applications would be found in electronics and printed circuits, energy storage, biomedical devices, membranes and barriers, and composites and coatings, on which the speaker’s own research focussed. Incorporation of graphene can make plastic/epoxy electrically conducting, allowing composite materials to be used in aircraft components (lightning strikes), and electrical de-icing systems.

The next talk ‘Insect Control – ideas from the unexpected’ on 1 November 2017 was by Ian Whelan, who started his own company to promote Hedrin, the first silicone-based product against lice. This was based on an idea by a Guildford housewife, a physical insecticide acting against head lice, especially in children. It essentially leaves the insect in a shroud of the involatile silicone, and the lice suffocate, and dehydrate, or – if they need to lose water – burst. Previous insecticides had been based on killing the insect, and these proved to be persistent environmental pollutants. 

Whelan demonstrated that someone with an inquisitive mind and training in the 'university of life' can make a significant contribution in some of the intractable problems encountered in everyday life. He explained how he has been awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to establish collaborations with various Greek scientists to explore the ethnobotany of the region, especially for insect control materials.

© David Hunter, 2017

On 4 December 2017 Mr Alan Segrott, the Bridge Project Engineer for the Mersey Gateway right up to the completion and opening of the crossing in October 2017, gave a timely lecture on this new crossing of the River Mersey.

The Mersey Gateway bridge is based on the cable stay design and has become necessary to relieve congestion on the existing Millennium suspension bridge over the Mersey at Runcorn; to promote local economic development, and provide a landmark that fits the environment. The project embraced a 1 km long cable-stayed bridge with approximately 8 km of new and upgraded highways. Mr Segrott made excellent use of photography, CGI, and time-lapsed video to show how the work progressed. The use of modularisation throughout the construction meant that the pouring of concrete could progress rapidly, as the moulds were moved along the project. 

On 12 February 2018 the subject returned to the life sciences with Professor Kevin Ryan, FRSE presenting a lecture entitled 'Cell Death in life - good and bad!'. The best-understood form of cell death is apoptosis which is usually a benign programmed event in which the dead cell is engulfed and digested by others. In addition to apoptosis, cells can die by two other mechanisms: autophagy, and necr(opt)osis. In contrast, autophagy (Greek, “self-eating”) allows for the orderly degradation and recycling of cell components. In disease, autophagy is an adaptive response to stress, which promotes survival, whereas in other cases it appears to promote cell death and morbidity. Work in the speaker’s own laboratory identified the genes turned on by the cell-death-inducing protein p53.

In normal animal tissue cells grow where and when they should, individual cells receiving both positive growth signals leading to proliferation and survival, and negative growth signals leading to differentiation or death. The balance is lost in cancerous tissue, in which negative signals suppressed, leaving a balance of positive signals. Targeting anti-cancer drugs to cell death works: the p53 family of proteins are strong promoters of apoptosis, and as the title of the lecture suggested cell death can be both good and bad - the challenge is to use it in the most beneficial way.

Professor Kenneth Letherman began his talk 'The Life and Work of James Clerk Maxwell', on 5 March 2018, by pointing out that although James Clerk Maxwell is a hero to many physicists he was not more widely recognised and celebrated until recently. During his short lifetime from 1831 to 1879 he made significant contributions to many fields including electromagnetism, molecular theory of gases, optics, astronomy, bridge structures, dimensional analysis and the principles of steam engine governors.

Professor Letherman took the audience through Maxwell's academic life and its successes, culminating in 1871 when Maxwell was appointed the first holder of an endowed chair in Experimental Physics in the University of Cambridge. This endowment culminated in the world famous Cavendish Laboratories. Maxwell died in November 1879, aged only 48 - the world lost a true scientific polymath.

The final talk of the year on 3 May 2018 was given by Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly FRS entitled ‘Why do we get fat and why does it make us ill?’. If energy intake in food exceeds that consumed by metabolic processes and physical exertion then it has to be stored. In practice this is achieved by laying down fat or adipose tissue: a particularly efficient form of storage. Prof. O’Rahilly preferred to talk of adiposity rather than obesity, because the latter carries potentially pejorative overtones. Adiposity is increasing in developed and many second world countries at an alarming rate and clearly this has to have an environmental and cultural basis.

Having discussed the causes of excess adiposity, O'Rahilly then pointed out that being overweight has adverse mechanical consequences contributing to osteoarthritis of the hips and knees, gastro-oesophageal acid reflux and sleep apnoea. It is also associated with a variety of common cancers, and at the metabolic level increased weight is associated with insulin resistance, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, atherogenic cardiovascular disease and fatty liver.

At the simplest level to avoid obesity and its consequences we need to avoid positive energy balance and weight gain. Restricting energy intake however is not easy particularly for those who have the misfortune to have inherited a major single gene mutation, (e.g. leptin deficient children), or alternatively, and more commonly, several genetic polymorphisms which predispose to increased appetite. While specific treatment is available for leptin deficiency no specific treatments are yet available for most genetic defects. Some drugs used in the treatment of diabetes do promote significant weight loss but most have not stood the test of time because of adverse effects. He concluded that for the time-being we are largely reliant on lifestyle measures supported by public health programmes to induce cultural change.

Art is social: ‘the visible meaning of a good picture’

Janet Wolff

The Society’s AGM was followed, in the usual fashion, by a lecture given by a distinguished member of the Society, this year by Janet Wolff, Professor Emerita of Cultural Sociology at the University of Manchester and author of many books on the sociology of art. The talk was this year organised jointly by Council and the Arts Section.

Wolff took as her starting point the debates generated by John Berger’s interpretation of Thomas Gainsborough’s painting, Mr And Mrs Andrews.  Berger had asked why the painting had been commissioned, and suggested motives other than aesthetic ones: ‘They are landowners and their proprietary attitude towards what surrounds them is visible in their stance and their expressions’. This provocative statement, in Berger’s landmark 1972 BBC series, ‘Ways of Seeing’, turned out to be a formative and influential intervention in art history and art criticism. In an erudite and superbly illustrated account, Wolff explored how the history of modern western art has conventionally been seen as a sequence of styles and movements: Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism and Abstract Art; likewise as a chronology of great artists, each of them achieving a kind of revolution in art. She showed how, in recent years, this linear account of ‘great movements’ and ‘great artists’ has been supplemented – and questioned – by sociologists and social historians of art, who have argued that it is not possible to understand aesthetic developments without paying attention to social factors: contracts and commissions, museums and galleries, dealers and critics, and so on. This led her to consider the difference a social history of art has made to the story of art in the modern period, and what the implications might be for perennial questions of beauty, value and aesthetic taste. The thought-provoking nature of the talk was amply underlined by the range of questions it generated from an attentive audience.

Dickens and Magic

Ian Keable

A magical evening was next on the Arts Section agenda. Few people know that Charles Dickens was also a talented amateur conjurer, fascinated by spiritualism and ghosts. But hey presto! lecturer Ian Keable lifted the lid on the author’s magical talent, using his own sleight-of-hand to reveal and re-create Dickens’s favourite tricks.   Ian, who graduated from Oxford in PPE, qualified as a Chartered Accountant, then went on to become a professional magician. He is a member of the Inner Magic Circle with a Gold Star. He has also received the Magic Circle Comedy Magic Award.    

Dickens’s had a love of uncovering the tricks and tools of conjurers, spiritualists and Victorian“psychics”. Ian opened up the secret world of Charles Dickens for us – mesmerising the audience with his own magical skills, as he recounted Dickens’ years performing his own highly amusing and entertaining shows. In this humorous and mystifying event, even those members of the audience on the front row, just feet away from Ian, remained baffled. It was a magical evening of entertainment in every sense of the word.

Victorian Cemeteries

Mike Higginbottom

A talk about cemeteries might seem to verge on the ghoulish but Mike Higginbottom’s enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of his subject of Victorian Cemeteries made his lecture far removed from the macabre. Within the space of 45 minutes, he explored the growth of the cemeteries and exposed how the social pecking order continued even after death. Extravagant monuments jostle for space with the quirky and the plain. The graves of the famous, and the infamous become part of the tourist trail.  Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is a case in point.  No doubt the occupant of the Egyptian style tomb designed by Jacob Epstein would approve that it is now covered with lipstick kisses.  It was a talk that could have gone on for much longer and perhaps there may be a chance in the future to hear about another Victorian obsession in Mike’s talk Temples of Sanitation.

Why the Anglo-Saxons Matter: King Alfred and the Making of England

Michael Wood

Film-maker and historian Michael Wood hardly needed introducing to our audience. A familiar face on the BBC, and born and brought up in Manchester, he is passionate about the Anglo-Saxons and their role in shaping British history to the present day. Michael, who is currently Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester focused on what he believes is one of the most exciting and formative periods in British history – the Viking Age –  when three generations of the family of Alfred the Great created the early English state. Before attending Manchester Grammar School, Michael was a pupil at Benchill Primary School and had an out of the blue surprise when he was reunited with one of his teachers from that school, who had come to see his lecture. It was many years since he had seen her, and he was clearly delighted and moved to see her again. This lecture attracted a very large and appreciative audience, many of whom enjoyed the chance to engage with Michael in the Question and Answer session.

Image reproduced courtesy of Preston Historical Society

Lit & Phil Museums: the role of Learned Societies in the creation of Museums in Britain, especially the North West

Anthony Burton

We tend to take our local museums for granted, but how and why they were formed, and against what odds, makes for a fascinating history. The role that learned institutions – such as the ‘Lit and Phil’ societies – played in that history is little known, and that was the topic addressed by Anthony Burton. Eminently qualified to lead his audience on this journey, Burton, who spent most of his working life as a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and was himself its historian, described and contextualised the creation of Lit-and-Phil museums with both authority and lightness of touch. Manchester Lit and Phil, though one of the earliest in the world, did not start a museum, though other learned institutions in Manchester did. Focussing especially on Lit-and-Phil museums in Liverpool, Preston, Kendal, Derby and Chester, Burton described their foundation and how they manage to survive in the present, mostly under local government auspices. Characteristically, alongside some often-noteworthy libraries, their collections of exhibits would normally include natural history, geology, archaeology, and ethnography – subjects categorised as ‘philosophy’ (meaning science) – and sometimes art as well. This range of material did expose them to some mockery, as ‘heterogeneous and absurd jumbles’, but the intellectual ambition that inspired them was admirable, as Burton convincingly showed in what was a supremely well-researched and well-illustrated lecture.

70th Anniversary of the "Baby" – Celebrations and Lectures

21 June 2018 was the 70th anniversary of the creation of the "Baby" computer. The Lit & Phil marked the occasion with an evening of lectures by Dame Mary Archer DBE and Dr James Sumner delivered to a packed-out audience at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The event was the Lit & Phil's 2018 Manchester Lecture, a prestigious annual lecture, the subject matter of which reflects the achievements, concerns and opportunities of modern Manchester and its immediate region. While not a modern achievement for Manchester, the Baby was certainly an achievement that not only impacted modern Manchester but the modern world. Among the Manchester Lecture's special guests was 90-year-old Professor David “Dai” Edwards – then a young scientist who was part of the pioneering team behind the world’s first stored-program computer. Professor Edwards worked on Baby as it was expanded into the Manchester Mark 1, which led the way to the world’s first commercially available general-purpose computer.


Dr Diana Leitch (President) welcoming everyone to the Manchester Lecture 2018


The large audience was welcomed by the President, Dr Diana Leitch MBE, who awarded Honorary Membership of the Lit and Phil to Dame Mary Archer and Professor Dai Edwards and presented Dr James Sumner with a copy of John Dalton's papers before Dame Mary and James started their respective lectures.



Dame Mary Archer commenced the lectures with a look at the Museum Group's computer collection before moving on to Dr James Sumner's talk about the history of computing in Manchester, including a mention of the women who played an important role in Manchester's early computing developments. One such woman was the mother of Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web), Mary Lee Woods, an English mathematician and computer programmer who worked in a team that developed programs in the School of Computer Science, University of Manchester Mark 1, Ferranti Mark 1 and Mark 1 Star computers. 





Pictures from the evening

Images marked with a copyright watermark have been kindly provided to us by Tim Banks and the BABY Computer Volunteers. All other photos without a watermark have been taken by Society Member Dr David Leitch.

Council and Arts Section member Joanna Lavelle and new member, John Glenn, on the reception desk

The BABY Computer volunteers and Dai Edwards in front of the replica machine

Professor Dai Edwards in front of the Baby replica at MSI

Group left to right, in front of the Baby replica –Sally McDonald (Director of MSI), Professor Dai Edwards, George Baker (Lit and Phil Member and Computer Volunteer), Dr Diana Leitch (President Manchester Lit and Phil), Dame Mary Archer, DBE (Chair of Board of Trustees of Science Museum Group) 

One of the BABY Computer volunteers speaks to Stuart Flinders from BBC North West Tonight

"Happy 70th Birthday Baby!"

Dr Diana Leitch (President) presenting Dame Mary Archer DBE with a certificate of Honorary Membership of the Lit and Phil

Dr Diana Leitch (President) presenting Professor Dai Edwards with a certificate of Honorary Membership of the Lit and Phil

Dame Mary Archer giving her talk entitled 'From Babbage to the "Baby": the Science Museum Group's Computer Collection'

Dame Mary Archer giving her talk entitled 'From Babbage to the "Baby": the Science Museum Group's Computer Collection'

Khalil Rafiq, a biographer of Professor Tom Kilburn,  reads greetings from the Kilburn family

Dr James Sumner giving his talk entitled  'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester'

Dr James Sumner giving his talk entitled  'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester'

The packed-out audience in the Revolution MCR space at MSI

Diana Leitch (President) presents Dr James Sumner with a copy of John Dalton's papers


More photos are available over on the MSI blog here.


Top photo of Dai Edwards from the Museum of Science and Industry
The past year contained an eclectic series of lectures beginning in October with Dr David Bellingham who spoke on Legal and Ethical Title: selling off art from English country house collections. He used Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and Syon House in Middlesex as case studies to excellent effect. This was followed in November by a lecture on Aviation and the Environment, a subject about which members knew very little, but which was brought to life with excellent illustrations by an enthusiastic lecturer, Professor John Fielding.
Syon House Aphrodite at Sotheby's Sale Preview
In December Dr Michael Cannon spoke on overcoming the problems of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics under the title Antibiotics: the Calm before the Storm. He described the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that could potentially have catastrophic consequences. January saw a visit by Professor Julian Pine on Tuning In and Talking: how parents can influence their children's language development. The lecture began by discussing research which shows that parents who talk about what is in their children's current focus of attention tend to have children who go on to develop large vocabularies. It then described an intervention study which showed how ‘tuning in and talking’ can be used to boost language learning in children from low socio-economic status.
In March, Georgina Ferry spoke under the title Diamonds to DNA: the women who revealed the hidden structures of nature where she looked at the circumstances of three women, Kathleen Lonsdale, Dorothy Hodgkin (a member of the Manchester Lit & Phil) and Rosalind Franklin. She discussed how they were able to succeed in science at a time when few women had professional careers of any kind.
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin with her children Toby, Elizabeth and Luke in 1946 on the day her Fellowship of the Royal Society was announced. Copyright: Newsquest Oxfordshire
The final lecture of the year was given in April by Professor Stephen Graham who explored the idea that today’s towns and cities can no longer be read as a two-dimensional map but must be understood as a series of vertical strata. In Vertical Cities: from basement to rooftop he explained how to rethink the city at every level – how the geography of inequality, politics and identity is determined in terms of above and below.


The new law on Data Protection (General Data Protection Policy – GDPR) comes into effect on 25 May 2018, which replaces the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and is designed “to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens’ data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy”. 


As a member of the Lit & Phil, we need to send you information about upcoming events and important details about your subscription and payments. This means that by doing so, we are fulfilling our obligation to you as a member of the Society and do not require positive consent to contact you within the scope of your membership (see contractual reasons for data processing in our full policy document). Communication will generally be by email, post, or phone, and will always be related to Lit & Phil information. Your details will never be passed to a third party.


Even though we do not need to you opt-in at present due the nature of our data processing, the introduction of GDPR provides us with the opportunity to make you aware of our privacy policy and to give you the chance to update your details so that we can make sure any data we hold is accurate. You can access our Data Privacy Notice and the more detailed Data Protection & Retention Policy the Lit & Phil website under ‘Resources’. You will also be able to review the personal data we hold for you and update it, if necessary, on your website account user area where you will also find a record of your interactions with the society (bookings, transactions and emails). We will be in touch with members when the full updating features go live.

We are happy to announce that the Manchester Lecture will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday 21 June 2018 at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). This year it is in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the world's first stored-program computer on 21 June 1948 at the University of Manchester. The computer is known as 'The Baby' and a replica of it is located at MSI.

The Lecture, to be delivered by Dr James Sumner from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, is entitled 'Bringing up Baby: establishing and promoting computers in Manchester'. There will be an introduction by Dame Mary Archer DBE, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group which includes MSI. Additionally, The Museum of Science and Industry Computing Volunteers will be running the replica machine in the afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. and also between 6 and 7 p.m. Additionally, Professor Jim Miles from the University of Manchester and some of his students will be demonstrating modern day computing in the afternoon.

Members will have the option to book for supper which will be served between 6 and 7 p.m. at MSI. We are currently awaiting the final details and as soon as everything is completed, the booking will go live so be sure to check your emails and the website for updates.



Arts Section Theatre Group

20th December, 2017

The Arts Section are proposing a new theatre-going group for Lit & Phil members who would like to attend performances together with a pre-performance talk and discussion accompanied by refreshments at the Lit & Phil meeting space. At this stage, there are plans for a pilot event so we are asking members to let us know by email or phone whether they would be interested in attending the pilot event before we procure group tickets.

The first event will take place around a performance of The Cherry Orchard at the Royal Exchange Theatre on 26 April 2018, with the pre-performance meet-up starting at 12.45 p.m. and the performance at 2.30 p.m.

The response has been great so far and we will be assessing the attendance numbers for the first Theatre Group outing in early January so we can reserve the right amount of tickets and will contact interested parties shortly thereafter to confirm payment information.

Even if you cannot attend the first performance but would like to attend other group outings, please do register your interest with the office.

For more information about the idea behind the group and how it will work, please see a letter from the Chair of the Arts Section, Patricia McWilliam-Fowler, that members should have received via email. If you are interested in attending the first event, please let the office know as soon as possible.

Office Closure over Christmas

12th December, 2017


The Lit & Phil office will be closed over the Christmas and New Year period, starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday 21 December 2017 and reopening at 9 a.m. on Thursday 4 January 2018.

Members can still book for lectures on the website over the festive period, but please be aware that any email or phone queries will only be answered upon reopening.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all members of the Lit & Phil an enjoyable Christmas and a peaceful New Year. We look forward to seeing you when lectures start again at the end of January 2018.


We would like to invite members new and old to our Christmas drop-ins at the society’s offices on Deansgate. These will be a chance for members to socialise with each other, meet members of Council and the Lit & Phil staff, as well as see our newly refurbished meeting space. There will be wine, soft drinks and mince pies plus savoury nibbles available.

There will be two drop-in opportunities during the daytime so that it is possible to combine our festive meet-up with any shopping or visits to the Christmas markets at a time when the commute into Manchester may be easier than for our evening events. The two dates and times are:

Monday 11 December between 14.00 and 16.00
Thursday 14 December between 11.00 and 13.00



If you have not yet paid a visit to our offices, the address is:

5th Floor, Church House
90 Deansgate
M3 2GP

The entrance to the building is located between the Bella Italia restaurant, on the corner of St Mary's Street, and a Toni & Guy hairdressers. There is an elevator to the 5th Floor and the buzzer for the Lit & Phil is situated to the right as you exit the lift.

We hope you will be able to join us for a drink, a mince pie and a chat. Please let the office know which day you intend to come so that we can prepare accordingly, just click here to send an email.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


Lit & Phil Member Survey

15th November, 2017

The Lit & Phil Council would like hear from members regarding the annual programme and event arrangements. We want to be sure that we are offering a broad and flexible range of meetings, so that we can encourage members to attend as many events as possible and also attract new members. We have already had over 40 replies to the survey so far, so we would like to thank those who have already completed it. If you haven't then you may be interested in the sorts of ideas other members have been putting forward such as:

  • Different venues
  • Earlier (and later) timings

  • Longer (and shorter) lectures

  • More time for questions

  • Food – buffet; two-course meal, as currently; pre-lecture food

  • More extramural visits

  • Easier booking and checking-in

The list could go on! And we would like it to with your help. The society currently has over 400 members and we would really like to hear from as many as possible on how you would like our Society to develop so please do complete the survey if you have not done so already.

You can now fill in the questions online at this link [please note that you must logged in to the website as the page is only available to members of the society], or download and fill in the Word document sent to you via email, or complete a paper copy with your tea and coffee before forthcoming lectures. The deadline for the second round is Monday 11 December 2017.

We want you take this opportunity to influence any changes we will make after the survey results are analysed. We will, of course, be producing a report to all members on what the survey reveals and the actions we will take as a result.

We look forward to hearing from you!