Facts and fictions of Renaissance architecture

Posted on: March 23rd, 2023 by mlpMemberAdmin

The Renaissance is widely considered to be one of the most fascinating and productive periods in European history. In the domains of philosophy, law, science and art, great strides were made in the pursuit of excellence. The physical and intellectual legacy that this era has left behind is staggering. What could have motivated it?

Historically, the Renaissance bridges the Middle Ages with the Enlightenment. It facilitated the seismic shift from religious feudalism to humanism and rationalism. The distinction between periods, however, may not be as clear cut as people might think.

With a particular focus on the architectural styles of the period, Frank Vigon will question what we’ve come to define as being ‘of the Renaissance’. Can a building be adequately categorised by its style, period or the ethos under which it was built?

Without losing the sense of wonder that these structures elicit, we’ll examine the nature of architectural styles across Europe. We will try to identify the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between the competing power bases.

Join us as we strive to uncover some of the most remarkable testaments to human genius. In doing so, we will come to terms with the socio-historical context from which they emerged.

Demystifying Antarctica: What we’ve learned and what comes next

Posted on: March 14th, 2023 by mlpMemberAdmin

Since its discovery in 1840, polar scientists have gone to great lengths to explore Antarctica’s depths. An ice-covered continent the size of the United States and Mexico combined, it has been the site and subject of revelatory scientific studies and awe-inspiring adventures. In its vastness and mysteriousness, it has captured imaginations and has been the source of inspiration for centuries.

The significance of Antarctica’s role in the maintenance of ideal life conditions across the entire planet has since been established. Its ice, ocean and ecosystem play a vital role in the regulation of the global climate. Although many questions remain about its past and its present, particular attention has been turned to the future of its ice sheet. Concerns about its diminishing size have been at the heart of the polarising climate change debate.

Professor Helen Fricker will speak of the physical processes which determine the state of the ice, the transformational impact of satellite observation on her studies as well as the effects that the atmosphere and the oceans have on the ice. We will ask her how the future of Antarctic ice will affect sea levels globally.

As getting to grips with Antarctica involves a range of specialisms and extensive international collaboration, Helen will go beyond her background in geophysics to provide us with a comprehensive understanding of the continent. As one of an increasing number of women polar scientists, we look forward to hearing from someone who has first-hand experience of seeing the effects of climate change.

This online event has been organised in collaboration with the Institute of Physics.

Find out more about the IoP here: https://www.iop.org

Pandemic as portal: remembering Covid, re-imagining society

Posted on: February 28th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Did the Covid pandemic change anything? And what will its legacy be?

In an influential essay published at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the novelist and activist Arundhati Roy described Covid-19 as a “portal” and an opportunity to re-imagine society and the sort of planet we wished to leave to our children.

But three years on, Roy’s vision of social, spiritual and planetary renewal looks increasingly utopian. Rather than being a “great leveller”, as some experts had hoped at the outset of the pandemic, Covid exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and accentuated political divisions.

On top of that, the pandemic didn’t result in the promised “great reset” in living and working conditions. Nor did it galvanise the world to finally address climate change.

In this talk, Dr Mark Honigsbaum will look at the history of pandemics, examining when and how they have acted as catalysts for social and political change – and when they haven’t ­. He will then assess the impacts of Covid-19 and its likely historical legacy.

*The Percival Lecture* – Technology: a tool and a mirror

Posted on: February 27th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How has human behaviour influenced and transformed computer technology?

In the 75 years since the invention of The Baby – the world’s first stored programme computer – technology has transformed our lives. We often think of it as something ‘other’ than us – mathematical, logical, objective. In fact, our minds map themselves on to the technology we make in unexpected ways, not just at the user interface, but right down to the computer processor.

Understanding why this happens and how to capitalise on it is crucial to our ability to innovate effectively.

The ultimate power of this knowledge is exhibited in the Principle of Locality, which states that the information we need next when running a computer program is located near in space and time to the information we are using currently.

Whilst this rule is seen almost ubiquitously in computing – supporting everything from system architecture to web browsing – its origins, in computer scientist Peter Denning’s years of painstaking empirical work observing how programmers work, are rarely discussed.

Caroline Jay has spent the last 20 years studying the relationship between humans and machines. In this talk she will explore the complex and often hidden process of creating technology, and demonstrate, starting with Denning’s early work, how an understanding of human behaviour and society is just as crucial to its success as the use of logic and mathematics.


Event schedule

Drinks reception for members and special guests: from 6.00 pm

Talk starts: 6.45 pm

Event ends: 8.00 pm

Can routine screening for Downs Syndrome be ethically justified?

Posted on: January 10th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Do screening programmes for pregnant individuals prevent or cause harm?

We often assume that increasing the number of screening programmes in pregnancy is a good thing.  These programmes are frequently justified as a way of empowering women (and others who are pregnant) with information about the foetus they are carrying, enabling more informed choices about their pregnancy.

In this talk, Professor Rebecca Bennett will argue that the routine nature of these screening programmes means that they put pressure on individuals. Not only to accept screening but also to consider termination of pregnancy.

If we are committed to respecting the autonomy of individuals, then this gives us good reasons to support any sufficiently autonomous choice to choose termination.  However, Rebecca will argue that the pressure involved in routine screening programmes undermines rather than empowers autonomous choice.

Further, if screening programmes are justified as an attempt to prevent harm, then a strong argument can be made that they are counterproductive. Not only in terms of harm to pregnant individuals but also in terms of reinforcing negative attitudes around conditions such as Downs Syndrome.

Collecting and interpreting ‘Ancient Egypt’ at Manchester Museum

Posted on: January 10th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Manchester Museum holds one of the UK’s largest Egyptology collections. What’s the story behind this fascinating collection?

This talk coincides with the return to Manchester Museum of a major international touring exhibition, ‘Golden Mummies of Egypt’. With the expert help of Dr Campbell Price, we will examine the emergence of interest in Egyptology in Manchester in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Which key figures kick-started the collection’s creation?

Cotton industrialist Jesse Haworth became fascinated with Pharaonic culture after reading Amelia Edwards’ book ‘A Thousand Miles up in the Nile’, in the late 1870s. He subsequently visited Egypt in 1880.

Inspired by what he saw, he invested significant sums of money into excavations in Egypt. These excavations were led by British archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie. And this partnership shaped the rich collection of Egyptian antiquities that formed at Owens College. – which later became the Manchester Museum.

Petrie’s excavations at the important site of Hawara, near the Faiyum lake in Egypt, were instrumental in setting tastes and expectations among the museum-going British public. Hawara was a major cemetery site of the Graeco-Roman Period. During this period, Egypt was ruled successively by Greek kings called Ptolemy and Roman emperors.

The funerary art of this time, between around 300 BCE and 300 CE, shows a multicultural attitude to death. The objective of mummification was more about the transformation of the deceased into a god, rather than simple preservation of the flesh, as so often assumed.

A heady combination of gold, art, sex and death ensured the continued popularity of the Museum’s displays for over a century. In this talk, Dr Price’s closer examination of reactions at the time will reveal more about us than about the ancient Egyptians.

*The Dalton Lecture* – 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.