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.

Hailing from Altrincham, 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 event has been organised in collaboration with the Institute of Physics.

Find out more about the IoP here:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Theatre Group discussion

Posted on: January 30th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Find out more about Tennessee Williams as a playwright, the context in which he was writing and the themes he tackled.

This Lit & Phil member-led discussion will consist of an informal introduction to Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, prior to our visit to see the production at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

A short presentation will be given by Tony Jackson, with additional input from Joanna Lavelle. As well as providing some background to the play and Williams, especially the battles he had with stage and film directors over this particular play, some questions and talking points will be suggested to consider when attending the performance.

The session will be about 45 minutes long and will include opportunities for questions and discussion among the participants.

All are welcome, whether or not you can attend the production at the Royal Exchange.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using Blue Jeans, allowing all users to be seen and to join the discussion. There will also be a post-production on-line discussion on April 25th at 6.30pm via Blue Jeans.

Food and climate change

Posted on: January 24th, 2023 by mlpEditor

About a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food; global emissions average 6 kg CO2e per person per day, ranging from less than 2 kg/day in Africa to 13 kg/day in the US.

Controlling emissions to limit temperature rise cannot be achieved without a very large reduction in food related emissions. This means changes in diets and food production. How might this be done? And what can we do as individuals?

These, and other questions you want to raise, will be considered during this online session.

Our main speakers are Peter Ball (Professor of Operations Management at the University of York) and Beckie Lait (also at the University of York carrying out PhD research with They will respectively explore systems thinking behind UK farming practice (in particular, urban farming) and the carbon footprints of our food choices.

Following their introductions there will be ample time for your questions, suggestions and comments.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using the BlueJeans meetings app, allowing all users to be seen and to join the discussion.

Further reading: Professor Sarah Bridle – who gave an online talk to the Lit & Phil – sets out the problems in her book “Food and Climate Change” – a highly recommended source (and available as a free e-book).

Free speech: its past, present and future

Posted on: January 5th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How can we better understand and conceptualise both the benefits and challenges of free speech?

It has been said that ‘free speech is the bulwark of liberty; without it, no free and democratic society has ever been established or thrived’. But how can we protect it whilst addressing legitimate concerns surrounding misinformation and hate speech?

In this online ‘in conversation’ event, Danish lawyer and human-rights advocate, Jacob Mchangama, will explore the past, present and future of free speech with Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University.

Drawing on Professor Cartledge’s expertise in ancient history and democracy, the conversation will begin with a discussion of where and how the very idea of free speech originated.

Jacob and Paul will explore the ancient concepts of “Isegoria” (equality of all in freedom of speech) and “Parrhesia” (speaking candidly). And the difference, indeed conflict, between “egalitarian” free speech in Athens vs “elitist” free speech in the Roman Republic. Using illustrative examples – including the trial of Socrates and the Peterloo Massacre – they will explain how this conflict between egalitarian and elitist free speech has been a major fault line through ancient, medieval, and modern history.

What lessons can the difficulties of invoking the ideal of free speech in the ancient world tell us about the difficulties of operationalizing this ideal in today’s digital world? And how can we create a resilient global culture of free speech that benefits everyone?

*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.

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.

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.

Reducing your carbon footprint – air and ground source heat pumps

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

How can air and ground source heat pumps reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?

This online seminar will begin with an interview of Florence Collier by Lit & Phil member Dr Brian Tyler. The discussion will aim to describe types of heat pumps, their availability, installation and implementation, costs and general aspects of use in the UK.

David Heaton, an experienced mechanical engineer, will then talk about his experience of living with an air source heat pump.

In the second half of the meeting, the speakers will form a panel to answer questions from attendees. So come prepared with your questions to get the most out of this seminar.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using the BlueJeans meetings app, allowing all users to be seen and join the discussion.

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.

Pandemic resilience: how to control a virus

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

What role does the environment play in the transmission of respiratory diseases? And how do our interactions in indoor spaces determine the risk of infection?

COVID-19 has presented us with the most difficult healthcare and societal challenge we have faced in living memory. As a new disease, we have had to rapidly build the knowledge base on every aspect of the virus.  To understand the mechanisms of transmission we have had to draw on experiences with other respiratory viruses. And the growing evidence based on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Understanding the routes of transmission is challenging. But modelling of aerosols, droplets and indoor airflows can play an important role in identifying mechanisms.

Catherine Noakes’ talk outlines some of the approaches used to understand mechanisms for transference and the effectiveness of mitigation strategies.  She will highlight some of the scientific understanding and how that has changed as we learned more about the disease.

How is scientific advice used to support policymakers and public messaging? And what are the challenges and complexities in this process?

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