What is life?

Posted on: December 7th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Multi-award-winning scientist Sir Paul Nurse considers the most fundamental question in biology, “What is Life?”

In a highly anticipated talk, Sir Paul will seek to answer this profound question by first exploring five great ideas in biology:

The cell – the fundamental unit of all living things

The gene – how do cells store, preserve and pass on information?

Evolution by natural selection – how is genetic information accurately transmitted to subsequent generations, whilst at the same time introducing sufficient variability for natural selection to operate and for new species to arise?

Life as chemistry – how do cells host myriad simultaneous chemical reactions in a minute space? What is the central role of carbon polymer chemistry?

Life as information – how do cells and organisms regulate and coordinate their internal environment? And how do they respond to stimuli and conditions in their external environment?

From consideration of these five fundamental concepts, Sir Paul will relate a number of principles which set a direction of travel towards a definition of life – something that requires more than just a description of what living things do.

His book “What is Life” has been published in 22 countries.

The tribulations and triumphs of Lydia Becker: a life of resilience and renewal

Posted on: November 28th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Discover more about the incredible life of the ‘unofficial’ leader of the British women’s suffrage movement in the later 19th Century.

In the 1868 general election women achieved a victory: a legal loophole allowed up to a thousand women across the country to cast their vote. This surprising event occurred due to the feisty and single-minded dedication of Lydia Becker.

It gave rise to the belief amongst campaigners that women would soon be enfranchised. But in fact, it would be another half-century before that goal was achieved. Lydia’s life became a series of triumphs and setbacks. For over twenty years she was the moving force behind ceaseless campaigning and publicity.

Brought up near Manchester in a middle-class family as the eldest of fifteen children, she broke away from convention, remaining single and entering the sphere of men by engaging in politics. Although it was considered almost immoral for a woman to speak in public, Lydia addressed innumerable audiences. Not only on women’s votes, but also on girls’ education, the position of wives, the abuse of women, and their rights at work. She kept countless supporters all over Britain and beyond informed of the many campaigns for women’s rights through her publication: the Women’s Suffrage Journal.

In every area there were setbacks. But relentless battling did begin to move society and politics towards a new perception of women by undermining the accepted orthodoxy of ‘separate spheres’.

Steamrollering her way to Parliament as chief lobbyist for women, Becker influenced MPs in a way that no woman had done before. In the 1870s giving women the vote was compared in the Commons to ‘persuading dogs to dance’; it would be ridiculous and unnatural. By the time of Lydia’s death in 1890 there was a wide acceptance that the enfranchisement of women would happen sooner or later.

But she did not live to see the achievement of her goals. The torch was picked up by others who built on the foundations she had laid. These included Lydia’s younger colleague on the London committee, Millicent Fawcett, and a woman she had inspired as a teenager: the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst.

Will humans become extinct through climate change?

Posted on: November 24th, 2022 by mlpEditor

In this talk by Dr Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute, we will examine what role climate change may play in the end of the world as we know it.

Disasters come in many shapes and sizes. One way of looking at them are by their scope: how much of the world and the future do they affect? And by their severity: how bad are they?

Global catastrophic risks are those that affect the entire world, while existential risks are those that threaten all future generations – typically extinction risks. There are many potential threats in these categories, ranging from asteroid impacts to nuclear war. Most are fortunately unlikely to spell our doom… but there are enough of them to make us rightly concerned about our well-being.

While natural risks are unlikely to cause an end of humanity, human-made risks are. What is the role of climate change in this? Direct extinction by a changed climate is very unlikely: it takes very extreme heat to stop an adaptive, technological species that is spread worldwide.

But climate change poses a systemic threat. By stressing nearly every part of the world as we move into a century with many other risks, powerful emerging technologies, and an interconnected and fragile global system, it can amplify other dangers and make them more likely to coincide into vast disasters.

Climate change may not be the end of the world, but it can certainly help it along. Conversely, some (but not all!) ways of handling climate change can reduce large risks.

This is a hybrid event, that can be attended in person or watched live online.

The secret of biodiversity and evolution in plants

Posted on: November 9th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Our planet has an enormous range of plant and animal species, biodiversity. Why is this? How have they evolved and how are they evolving now?

Natural crossbreeding, or hybridisation, between species is widespread in both plants and animals but it is especially common in plants where it is recognised as an important ‘creative’ force in evolution. In plants hybridisation is frequently associated with genetic changes which can lead to the abrupt formation of new species. In some cases, this combination of hybridisation and genetic changes creates complex patterns of variation causing challenges for scientists working on plant classification and the determination of a particular plant’s place in evolution. These processes are especially frequent in the daisy family (Asteraceae), the rose family (Rosaceae) and in grasses (Poaceae) leading to extreme challenges in classification for these particular plants.

Simon Hiscock will discuss how such plant diversity has arisen, using various examples of evolutionary processes from the rose family, where these changes are especially frequent. He will include a discussion of the famous Oxford Ragwort which has an intriguing evolutionary history and future.

Exploring the past through objects: religious faith during the industrial revolution

Posted on: November 7th, 2022 by mlpEditor

What can books, embroideries and ceramics tell us about religious faith during the industrial revolution?

Professor Hannah Barker’s talk will explore the religious faith of ordinary people in northern English towns, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Many descriptive accounts of domestic devotion survive in diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and commonplace books. A variety of non-textual sources in the collections of museums and galleries also shed light on religious practice and belief.

Domestic objects such as needlework samplers, annotated books, printed pictures, and a variety of ceramics including figures, teapots, and plaques, are rich sources for the study of domestic piety. Their existence supports the contention that religious belief continued to be widespread and influential during this period which is often associated with the decline of faith.

Even if you are not interested in religion, most people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were. To tell their stories and understand the world in which they lived, we also need to explore their faith.

How can we achieve a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle?

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

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 of spent nuclear fuel is currently carried out on large scale using the“Plutonium Uranium Reduction and Extraction” (PUREX) process. The spent nuclear 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. Separation of 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.

Laurence Harwood will report on the important progress that has been made in the advanced reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Waste nuclear fuel need not be a liability but a source of yet more power.

Global Citizen: reporting for duty

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

What role will today’s and tomorrow’s innovators play in helping us survive and thrive?

The global climate crisis. Famine and drought. Population growth. The battle for diminishing resources. These are no longer visions of some future nightmare. We are facing these challenges today.

Scientists have modelled where we are heading and it doesn’t look good. Protesters have taken to the streets. International targets have been agreed and Governments have laid out their plans.

But will they be enough? Pandemics and conflicts soon knock us off course; deadlines are missed and targets slip. So what can we do to protect our future, deal with today’s issues and learn to live with the extra challenges that are coming down the line?

Our world is evolving quickly. Engineering and Technology are right at the heart of the huge transformation we are experiencing. A career in STEM is becoming more than a career. It is a way of life – a consistent source of boundless creativity.

Yewande Akinola will share her discovery of the roles Innovative Engineering and Technology play in bringing progress and true Sustainability to our world. From the development of our built environment to more specific and intentional problem-solving.

This is a hybrid event, that can be attended in person or watched live online.

Double Dutch ‘Still Life’

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

The detailed realism of Dutch still life paintings is compelling. But is there more to Dutch art than meets the eye?

Merchants of the Dutch Golden Age filled their townhouses with paintings. But these upright Calvinist citizens rejected biblical subjects and Baroque melodrama. Their favourite themes were found closer to home.

Still lifes of this period reflect the prosperity and self-esteem of the new Republic. Banketje (banquets) and ontbijtjes (breakfasts) appear to celebrate an abundance of both local and imported foodstuffs. But could the platter of oysters or kraakware bowl of blemished fruit instead warn of the dangers of gluttony and pleasures of the flesh?

Vanitas, ‘pronkstilleven’ and ‘blompots’ display collections of books and instruments, luxury goods and vases overflowing with exotic flowers. But if we look closely, the pocket watch, fading bloom or human skull, might hint that consciences are troubled by such ostentation.

Life is fragile and worldly beauty is fleeting. Join Lynne Gibson to explore the secret symbolic language of still life paintings.

Manchester Voices

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

Dr Rob Drummond explores the accents, dialects and identities of Greater Manchester.

Dr Rob Drummond is the man behind ‘Manchester Voices’, the largest sociolinguistics project to examine the spoken language of Greater Manchester.

His talk tackles intriguing questions such as: Does the way we speak relate to who we are? How different are accents and dialects across Greater Manchester? Do our voices suggest older loyalties to Lancashire and Cheshire? He’ll also explain why understanding how language works is valuable to everyone.

Rob’s research team used online research and Geographic Information System software to examine archive recordings of local people born around 1900. At the same time, they collected and investigated current linguistic data in the Accent Van, their mobile recording booth.

The findings reveal a deep, complex relationship between spoken language and a sense of identity. They offer new insights into how acutely aware many people are of how they use language. And they show that accent diversity is alive and well across the region. Although sadly, some cherished dialect terms are beginning to fade.

Rob’s research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Northern Powerhouse: where are we now?

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

The Northern Powerhouse launched over a decade ago, to boost northern economic growth and to rebalance the UK economy. But where are we now?

The government doesn’t talk much about the Northern Powerhouse now, preferring the broader ‘levelling-up’ concept.  But the challenges, and the opportunities, remain. We can’t recreate the old industries. We have to somehow re-invent and re-invigorate areas that have suffered long term economic decline. And it’s not going to be easy.

From here in Manchester, reaching out to Liverpool in the West and Leeds and Sheffield in the East, we have a population of about 8 million.  This is not too dissimilar to London. Could this area become an integrated single market for producers and consumers, with spin-off benefits for the whole of the North?

Lord Jim O’Neill is one of the Northern Powerhouse’s original architects and a major contributor to its early successes. He names six individual challenges that have to be solved: education; skills; devolution; business connectivity; transport; and technology infrastructure.  And he is clear that all six will need to be solved if the Powerhouse objectives are to be achieved. So, is the government serious?

Lord Jim is a free spirit now and pulls no punches.