Archive for the ‘Watch’ Category

*The Percival Lecture* – South Africa’s Modernism, Modernism’s South Africa

Posted on: May 1st, 2024 by mlpEditor

When and where does modernism begin?

Is it in Paris in Spring 1907, when Pablo Picasso, inspired by the African masks he has seen on display in the Palais du Trocadéro, returns to his studio to paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?

Or, is it in the semi-desert region of South Africa in the 1870s, when teenage governess, Olive Schreiner, writes her first novel: The Story of an African Farm?

In the first origin story, Europe is the site of modernist innovation. Here, African art is viewed as little more than a repository of “primitive” imagery, in need of reinvention by the European artist in order to become truly “modern”.

In the second origin story, a South African writer produces a highly experimental, already-modernist novel that establishes forms and ideas that would later appear in, even influence, the development of English modernist literature.

One of these origin stories is more widely known that the other because modernism is primarily associated with early-twentieth century European and American artists and writers. Familiar figures from literature include James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. And writers associated with the Bloomsbury Group, such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.

Yet Schreiner wasn’t alone amongst her countryfolk in using innovative literary techniques to engage with conditions of modernity. Others came in her wake. These pioneers included Solomon Plaatje, the first black South African to write a novel in English. Others were H.I.E. Dhlomo, a pioneering poet, playwright, essayist and journalist; poet Roy Campbell, who became embroiled in friendships and feuds with members of the Bloomsbury Group; and novelist William Plomer, one of the most prolific writers for the Hogarth Press, run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

In this recording of Jade Munslow Ong’s talk – the 2024 Percival Lecture – she discusses a range of South African origin stories, taking in both South Africa’s modernism and modernism’s South Africa. She offers an account of the modernist aesthetics and politics established and promoted by South African writers. And she explores the debt owed by English modernists to the South African innovators that preceded, coincided with, collaborated on, and influenced their work.

How can we best help those in need during and after a Humanitarian Crisis?

Posted on: March 19th, 2024 by mlpEditor

What does it take to save lives in war, disaster, and disease?

Tony Redmond has over 30 years’ experience of responding to wars, disease outbreaks, and sudden onset disasters all around the world. In this recording of his highly engaging talk, he details the lessons learned, the improvements that have been made in the international response, and how we can continue to ensure the assistance provided is both effective and focused on those most in need.

He describes the type of medical assistance that is needed across the various types of humanitarian emergencies and how international support can best complement, and not compete with, the work of others and that of the affected country itself.

Delivering medical assistance during humanitarian crises, especially during conflicts, can be incredibly dangerous. Tony outlines how we can attempt to mitigate these risks, though never eliminate them. He describes his personal experiences of practicing medicine under fire.

A particular focus of the presentation is his work in Ukraine and that of his colleagues in UK-Med. He explains how the programs they are running there been shaped by their experience of delivering emergency medical aid to Sarajevo and Kosovo for the duration of the wars in the Balkans.

Helping those in need during a Humanitarian Crisis is not without personal cost. Tony discusses how we can look to reduce this amongst team members. He also gives an insight into the physical and mental challenges he has had to deal with – the legacy of over 30 years of committed work.

What are you drinking? A look at chemicals in the urban water cycle

Posted on: March 7th, 2024 by mlpEditor

When you turn on the tap to get a glass of water, do you think about where that water has come from? Or rather, where it’s been and what treatment processes it has had to go through?

It’s true that chemicals can extend, improve and enrich our health, wellbeing and life experiences. But the rate at which new chemicals are being generated is resulting in widespread contamination of water. Arguably, the impacts of chemicals in our environment represent the third greatest planetary crisis behind climate change and biodiversity loss. And yet they are inextricably linked to both.

Currently, more than 56% of the world’s human population lives in cities. And daily use, release and exposure to chemicals in our environment is an emerging concern.

In this recording of an online talk, Dr Leon Barron outlines how chemicals move in our urban water cycle. From the wastewater we generate, to river pollution, to contamination of our drinking water and their occurrence in both humans and biota. Advances in measurement technology has underpinned much of this, especially the use of mass spectrometry, to fingerprint chemical sources.

Leon describes the role of wastewater in understanding exposure to chemicals, with respect to continuous release of treated effluents to our rivers, lakes and seas. He also talks about using the analysis of wastewater generated in cities to understand consumption and exposure patterns to every-day-use chemicals – like pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, lifestyle chemicals and many others.

He assesses potential solutions to this issue, to ensure that we balance the environmental impacts of chemicals and their immense benefit to society.

If we’re going to survive and thrive in the future, there is no doubt that we will need to look after our water supply.

Plastic Ocean

Posted on: February 21st, 2024 by mlpEditor

In this recording of an online talk, we explore a photographic artist’s response to the worrying state of our oceans today.

Oceans are essential to life on earth. They cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface, regulate the climate, and supply the oxygen we need to survive. But every year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans, affecting marine environments, biodiversity, over 700 different species, and ultimately human health.

For more than 13 years, artist Mandy Barker has created different series of work to try to engage new audiences with the harmful effects of marine plastic pollution. Captions alongside Mandy’s work detail the ‘ingredients’ of the plastic objects photographed, list brands, or provide descriptions about locations and countries and what was recovered there. The aim is to provide the viewer with a realisation of what exists in our oceans. It is hoped that raising awareness of the scale of plastic pollution that is affecting our oceans, through the passing on of these facts combined with scientific research, will ultimately lead the viewer to want to make change and take action.

Mandy writes:

“Art alone cannot change the world. But by bringing attention to marine plastic pollution in this way, it is hoped my work will help inform, and raise awareness about the overconsumption of plastic and the wider issue of climate change, and in doing so encourage a wider audience to want to do something about it.”

The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter

Posted on: December 13th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How do the recent influx of Chinese migrants from Hong Kong compare to previous ones in British history?

The Chinese in Britain are a simultaneously visible and invisible community. Historically rooted in the port cities of Liverpool and London – as witnessed by their once bustling Chinatowns – the Chinese diaspora in Britain has now spread to towns and cities throughout the UK.

Much Chinese immigration to Britain has stemmed from political upheaval in China in the last century. Compared to the diaspora in the US, the influence of Britain’s historic ties to Hong Kong has been apparent. Families are overwhelmingly from Guangdong, China’s southern region, and mainly Cantonese speaking.

The economic and social pressures that greeted many of these refugee families were often similar to those experienced by the Windrush generation. The pace of Chinese immigration to Britain picked up as Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997 became imminent.

Another influence is the role British universities have played since the 1970s, in training successive generations of Chinese scientists. Bilateral exchanges have created valuable connections to a multi-ethnic country of continental proportions. Cultural and educational links formed with Britain have meant that Chinese migration, predominantly from Hong Kong, has been enriched by a small but growing settlement from other Chinese regions, together with inward investment.

In this recording of a Manchester Lit & Phil event with Newsnight Economics Editor Ben Chu, we seek to address questions such as what are the barriers to integration for this specific cohort of young British-born Chinese, sometimes tagged as “BBC Chinese”? How might their aspirations and world view be influenced by the experience of being torn from Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan 24/7 oriental hothouse atmosphere to a distant European alternate “motherland”? Could their imposed isolation and diminished status as refugees give rise to a growing nostalgia for Chinese culture? And might they be susceptible to blandishments from Beijing aimed at the Chinese Diaspora?

Engineering enzymes to reduce plastic waste

Posted on: December 11th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Plastic waste is a global pollution crisis. Finding effective solutions to tackle PET plastic pollution is crucial for preserving our environment and creating a more sustainable future.

PET plastic, short for polyethylene terephthalate, is a commonly used material in bottles, containers and packaging. Unfortunately, PET plastic waste has become a significant environmental problem. When not properly recycled, PET can persist in the environment for many years, contributing to pollution in our oceans and ecosystems.

Current recycling methods for PET plastic face several challenges. The processes can be energy-intensive and costly. And the quality of recycled PET may not always be on par with virgin plastic, limiting its usability.

In 2016 scientists found an enzyme, a special type of protein, called IsPETase that can break down PET into its original building blocks. This discovery generated a lot of interest in using biological methods to recycle plastics.

But enzymes such as IsPETase are not immediately suitable to be used on a large scale, as they are not robust or efficient enough for industrial use. Whilst enzymes can be engineered to meet these industrial demands, the process is very challenging when working with plastic degrading enzymes.

In this recording of an online talk, Dr Elizabeth Bell describes the development of a high-throughput platform for engineering plastic degrading enzymes using a process called directed evolution. Directed evolution is a mimic of natural evolution but done on a laboratory scale. It focuses on tailoring the specific properties of an enzyme to meet our requirements.

Elizabeth and her team used this platform to create a new variant of IsPETase that can withstand high temperatures and is more effective at breaking down PET. The engineered enzyme can also selectively degrade the PET component of a multi-material plastic that is commonly used for food packaging.

This study demonstrates that laboratory evolution can be used as a powerful tool to engineer enzymes to effectively break down plastics. With further research and development, these engineered enzymes could play a crucial role in reducing plastic waste and promoting a more sustainable future.

Four Ways of Thinking: Statistical, Interactive, Chaotic and Complex

Posted on: November 30th, 2023 by mlpEditor

What is the best way to think about the world? How often do we consider how our own thinking might impact the way we approach our daily decisions? Could it help or hinder our relationships, our careers or even our health?

Acclaimed mathematician David Sumpter has spent decades studying what we could all learn from the mindsets of scientists. His book Four Ways of Thinking (published August 2023) is the result.

Thinking about thinking is something we rarely do, yet it is something science questions all the time. Rather than being about facts, scientific and mathematic disciplines are, in large part, about finding better ways of reasoning. Our primary mission is to shape our own minds in a way that gets us closer to the truth.

In this recording of a Manchester Lit & Phil talk, David illustrates four ways of thinking (Statistical, Interactive, Chaotic and Complex) through the lives of four mathematical scientists — Ronald Fisher, Alfred Lotka, Margaret Hamilton and Andrej Kolmogorov. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a mathematician to enjoy David’s presentation!

He combines personal experience with practical advice, showing how these tried and tested methods can help us with every conundrum. From how to bicker less with our partners, to pitching to a tough crowd.

How can we achieve a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle?

Posted on: October 11th, 2023 by mlpEditor

What new technologies are being developed to minimise the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuels?

Nuclear power is very clean and carbon neutral. But spent nuclear fuel has a storage lifetime of 300,000 years.

Reprocessing used nuclear fuel is currently carried out on large scale using the “Plutonium Uranium Reduction and Extraction” (PUREX) process. During this process, the fuel is reduced to 15% of its original weight and the extracted uranium and plutonium are used as “Mixed Oxide Fuel”. This has been carried out at scale by the UK at Sellafield (now curtailed) and continues in France at La Hague.

The residual high-level waste has a storage lifetime of 9,000 years. Much of the remainder of the long-term radiotoxicity of the residual waste is due to traces (0.1%of the original fuel) of the minor actinides. Separating these minor actinides from the chemically very similar lanthanides and other fission products is the next key step in the future reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

So, what’s the challenge? The actinides can be used as a fuel in the next generation of nuclear reactors and converted into benign products. But the accompanying lanthanides would “poison” the reactor, causing it to shut down.

In this recording of an online talk, Laurence Harwood reports on the important progress that has been made in the advanced reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The used fuel need not be a liability but a source of yet more power.

Revolutionising cancer screening

Posted on: May 23rd, 2023 by mlpEditor

Whilst we can often successfully treat those that are diagnosed at an early stage, depending on the type of cancer, even the most effective treatments are often not effective when cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage. For these reasons, great efforts are made to diagnose cancers as early as possible.

There is only so much that can be done to make the public and clinicians aware of the signs and symptoms. To make real progress, we need better tests and to use them in screening programs targeting seemingly healthy people.

Up until now, screening tests have been designed to look for one specific type of cancer at a time. And a significant problem is posed by the unreliability of these tests. For every early detection of cancer, several others receive a false-positive. If we were to have 20 different screening programs (one for each type of cancer), most people would receive a false-positive result once every few years. These false-positive tests cause anxiety, can lead to invasive further testing and are expensive to the NHS.

But there is hope on the horizon. Recent technological advances allow for the detection of tiny fragments of genetic material present in the blood. This, for the first time, offers the possibility of having a single blood test for many different types of cancer. One such test can detect 50 different types of cancer, with varying success, and it only very rarely gives a false positive result. If this test can find cancer early enough, it could revolutionize the way we approach cancer control.

Professor Peter Sasieni explains this ground-breaking development in cancer research.

Lessons from Medieval Science, and Science-Theology Today

Posted on: May 15th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Although governments claim to ‘follow the science’, the activity we call ‘science’ and the community of ‘scientists’ can still seem cut-off, strange and remote to most people. And there is also a commonly-repeated idea that science is fundamentally opposed to religious faith.

We could arguably learn better ways of thinking about science by studying scientific thinking, and its context, from a time when it was much more integrated into learning and thought, in both these senses.

In this talk – part of the Catherdal Lecture series (2021) – Tom McLeish reported on a remarkable project involving scientists, medieval scholars, and theologians. These unusual collaborators are exploring the fascinating, perceptive, and surprisingly mathematical, work on light, colour and cosmology by Oxford master Robert Grosseteste, in the 1220s.

The project has stimulated new scientific research today, and helped explore new ways of thinking about the relationship between science and Christian faith.

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