UK: Cockermouth

The Old Cooperage Bar, Jennings Brewery, Cockermouth (autumn cafes)
Moota garden centre cafe, Moota (spring cafes)
usually the third Tuesday of each month whenever possible, 7:30 to about 9:30pm

Call Mike Rose-Troup on 01900 826903 to reserve a place. Booking opens the WEDNESDAY before the date of the Café.  Please also note that you may only reserve places for a maximum of 4 people. Sorry, but we can't take bookings by email.

We'll take £2.50 from you at the door! (Students are of course free)

If you can’t take up your reserved place please let us know as a waiting list operates when we fill the maximum of 47 places.

Mike Rose-Troup
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 11 April (NOTE 2nd Tuesday to avoid Easter week)

The Multiverse

Dr Michael Hawkins, The Royal Observatory Edinburgh

The volume of the Universe which we can directly observe has a radius of around 13.5 billion light years, limited by how far light has travelled since the Universe as we know it came into existence in the Big Bang.  It seems highly likely that we can see only a small part of what exists, but how much of the total?  The geometry of the Universe suggests that it extends vast distances beyond what we can observe, but would it be a broadly recognisable place or alien in ways we cannot possibly imagine? Cosmologists even hypothesise totally disconnected bubbles of reality in a 'multiverse' in which arbitrary selections of physical laws apply.  I will discuss some modern ideas on this subject, and touch on the question of whether such speculations are really science at all.



Recent speakers   

21 March

What makes British weather worth talking about?

Professor Doug Parker

UK weather is notoriously dynamic and unpredictable, so it makes sense that weather is the number one topic of conversation amongst the British. But what makes the UK weather so difficult to predict? What makes it so changeable?
Doug Parker is a Met Office Professor of Meteorology, based at University of Leeds. His research explores weather systems around the world, from dust storms in the African Sahara, to the dynamics of synoptic fronts in the UK, and how they are driven by high-altitude winds. Join him for a discussion of our most beloved conversation-starter and explore the science behind our ever-changing weather.

21 February

The making, keeping and losing of memory

Prof Richard Morris, CBE, FRS

Memory plays a critical role in our lives, enabling us to store information about specific events and to accumulate knowledge.  It enables us to reflect on the past and to wonder about the future.  In short it frees us living life just in the passing moments of day-to-day existence.  I also think of memory as the glue that holds families and friendships together. It is, of course, mediated by the brain and, in this talk, I shall outline our current understanding of how memory works neurophysiologically - how we encode new information, keep some of it, and then touch on the problems of memory loss in old-age and age-related neurological disorders.  At the end, I hope we can also have a fruitful discussion of people’s personal experience and anecdotes about memory. (Prof Morris and two colleagues won the 2016 Brain Prize for their work on the mechanism of memory.)

17 January 2017

Are animals smart?

Dr Lauren Guillette

Animals perform behaviours that routinely surprise and impress us. Most of these are behaviours that we tend to think are special to humans, such as using tools. But animals can also do things we might find quite difficult, like remembering thousands of locations where food is hidden. Dr Lauren Guillette, BBSRC Anniversary Future Leader Fellow at the University of St Andrews, talks about her research on learning and cognition in animals and discusses questions like: What does it mean to be smart? How do we find out if an animal is smart? And are some animals smarter than others?

13 December

Data to Delivery: How evidence informs the management of flood risk

Mike Harper and Adam Stephenson, Environment Agency

A talk about how environmental data is used by the Environment Agency across the flood risk management business; from recording of real life data to the development of hydraulic models which informs the design and construction of flood alleviation schemes.  This data is the backbone that supports and justifies the work of the Environment Agency's flood risk management function.

15 November

International Space Station

Prof Mike Cruise, University of Birmingham

Travelling above our heads every day is a large science laboratory- the International Space Station, or ISS - which orbits the Earth every 90 minutes. What goes on there? How is it operated? Why is it important? These questions immediately spring to mind and Prof Mike Cruise of the University of Birmingham will provide some answers. Mike is Chairman of the European Space Agency's Human Exploration Science Advisory Committee and a long term participant in Space Science in Europe and internationally.

18 October

Planets around other stars

Prof Ken Rice, University of Edinburgh

It's been over 20 years since we discovered the first planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. Today, we know of more than 3,000 extrasolar planets, more commonly known as exoplanets, and we're still discovering more! We've found that these exoplanets are incredibly diverse: from big gas giants orbiting very close to their parent stars to small rocky planets with orbits of only a few hours. I will discuss how to detect planets around other stars, what we know about their characteristics, and whether or not we might expect to find a potentially habitable planet in the near future.

20 September

Why the compass needle points North

Prof Kathy Whaler, University of Edinburgh

Magnetic compasses may have been used by the Chinese as early as the first century AD, and natural magnets were known to the Greeks in classical times. We know that the earth's magnetic field originates in the liquid iron region of the deep Earth, and have plausible mechanisms for how it is generated which match most of the observations, including that over most of Earth history is has pointed approximately towards either the North or South pole. Kathy Whaler, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Edinburgh, will describe what we know (and how we know it) about deep Earth structure, the processes taking place in the liquid iron core which generate the magnetic field, and the controversies that remain.

19 April

Where next for Particle Physics?

Dr Gavin Hesketh

Since discovering the Higgs, attention has shifted to some really open questions in fundamental physics: learning more about the Higgs but also to the nature of Dark Matter, learning more about neutrinos and many other things. In my talk I'll give a flavour of some of these questions, and where answers may come from.

Gavin's research focuses on fundamental physics at the electroweak scale. The LHC is the unprecedented opportunity to explore this energy regime and beyond. So far this has lead to the discovery of the/a Higgs boson, which may be responsible for breaking electroweak symmetry and generating particle masses. In the coming years, we should be able to determine if this Higgs boson couples to fermions, generating mass for the matter particles.

9 February

Forensic Taphonomy

Peter Cross

 Unfortunately, Peter had an unexpected family bereavement and had to cancel at short notice. We'll try to have his talk another time.

8 March

Forensic Collision Investigation

Simon Farrell

 Despite giant leaps forward in vehicle safety in recent years payments from the insurance industry to those involved in collisions are greater than ever. This talk by Simon Farrell will highlight his work for GBB (UK) Ltd of Burnley, a market leading firm of forensic collision investigators and engineers who offer expert evidence in all motoring matters particularly collision reconstruction and investigation. The talk will discuss how engineering knowledge is used to assist in the investigation of large rings of fraudulent insurance claims to individual injury claims, and a wide range of different collisions, from minor scrapes to those involving major injuries or fatalities.


12 January

The ticking and tocking of your body clock

Prof Hugh Piggins

 The rotation of the earth on its axis creates daily variation in several parameters including temperature, humidity, and daylight.  To adapt and to anticipate such recurring conditions, intrinsic circadian or near 24h biological clocks have evolved in virtually all life forms.  In mammals including humans, the master circadian clock is in the brain, although most cells and tissues throughout the body contain clocks.  Professor Hugh Piggins, University of Manchester, will discuss how the circadian clock is organised, how it is reset by the environment, and how it communicates with the rest of the brain and body.


December 8th 

Smashing physics

Jon Butterworth

 The floods prevented Jon from getting here so this cafe had to be cancelled. We rearranged his talk.


November 17th

The science of sight

Matt Mellor

 The human visual system is by far the most powerful and complex of the senses. It enables us to perceive the world around us a three-dimensional structure, to navigate, to recognise many thousands of objects, animals and people without the slightest concious effort. After decades of work to understand and reproduce the workings of the visual system, we understand only isolated pieces. Matt will take a random walk through some of the more interesting and surprising properties of the human visual system and some of the latest results of efforts to reproduce it.   

 Matt Mellor gained a PhD in computer vision applied to medical imaging from the Robotics Research Group of Oxford University in 2004. In 2010 he founded Createc, a commercial research and development group specialising in imaging and sensing, based in Cockermouth. Today Createc develops vision systems in multiple industries for customers all round the world.

October 20th 

The science and future of plant genetic modification

Geraint Parry

Genetic Modification of plants has been a controversial topic for over a decade and yet there is continuing confusion about what they are, if they are a danger and for what they can be used.

 Geraint will introduce the science behind the creation of GM crops, explain what they are and what the benefits or potential drawbacks they have. He will consider why he thinks they are part of the solution for problems of world food insecurity and why it’s not all about big multinationals and that crops created for the common good can make a difference!

Dr Geraint Parry has been a plant science researcher for the past 15 years, working in labs in the UK and USA. Most recently he was a lecturer at the University of Liverpool before moving on to his current position where he acts as National Coordinator for the GARNet community, an organisation which supports fundamental plant science research.

September 15th 

Why you are a superorganism

Jon Turney 

 After we sequenced the human genome, attention turned to the microbes within us. Recent results show they are far more diverse than anyone knew. Their trillion-fold contributions to our lives include aiding digestion, making vitamins, and toning up the immune system. Truly we are superorganisms. As more evidence emerges that our microbes affect many aspects of health, and may even influence the brain, what does this mean for medicine, diet advice, child-rearing, and all the rest of our lives?

April 14th

Rebecca Whittle

Five loaves and two fishes: can local food feed the world?

“With the world’s population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050 there is talk of a global food security crisis. Across the globe, a range of initiatives are taking place in an attempt to avert this crisis, from scientists working to develop crops that will be more resistant to the impacts of climate change, through to the development of new, hi-tech forms of urban farming which could see food being grown in disused office blocks. But what about smaller, more local and community oriented ‘grow your own’ initiatives – such as the rise of urban foraging, community and ‘guerrilla gardening’? Such initiatives are often overlooked because the volume of food that they produce is relatively small. However, I’ll argue that they remain a vital component of food security, since they have the potential to transform the ways in which we relate to the environment and each other...”

Beccy Whittle is a lecturer in the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University. As a keen ‘allotmenteer’ and community gardener (and, less importantly, a social scientist with nine years experience of working on environmental research projects!), she is passionate about researching and developing local and alternative food systems which combine environmental sustainability with social and community benefits.


March 17th 

Arthritis: Is prevention better than cure?

Ian Bruce

Ian Bruce is an NIHR Senior Investigator and Professor of Rheumatology at the Arthritis Research UK Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Inflammation and Repair, University of Manchester and The Kellgren Centre for Rheumatology, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust. He is currently Medical Director of the NIHR/ Wellcome Trust Manchester Clinical Research Facility and the Manchester Centre Academic Lead for the NIHR Translational Research Partnership in Joint and related inflammatory conditions. Prof Bruce is also Chair of the Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics (SLICC) group.


February 17th 

Ian Jackson

"Melanocytes: The Remarkable Cells That Create the Many Colours of
Humans and Animals"

Melanocytes are remarkable cells that come from the developing nervous
system and find their way to the skin, eyes and hair. There they produce
the variety of colours that we see humans and in wild and domesticated
animals. Many patterns seen in animals can be explained by melanocytes
failing to reach their target sites (think of a black and white cat, or
a Friesian cow). The type of pigment made by these cells can vary from
red or yellow to black or brown, and genetic variation in this process
is what results in red hair in humans; black cattle and sheep; black,
red or yellow dogs and similar variants in many other domestic and wild

Ian Jackson is a Professor at Edinburgh University where he is Head of
Medical and Developmental Genetics at the MRC Human Genetics Unit (a
world-leading centre for human genetic research) and also holds a joint
appointment in the Roslin Institute (a leading centre for veterinary
research). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is
currently the President of the European Society for Pigment Cell Research.


January 20th 2015

Dave McGarvie

Iceland's volcanic eruptions - the surprise and the suspense

“At the time of writing (November 2014) the Bárðarbunga (bower-tha-boonga) volcano has been active for nearly 3 months. In some respects it's behaving as we expect, but in other respects it's providing us with some surprises. It's erupted Iceland's largest lava flow since the 1783-4 Laki eruption, and one surprise is that nobody expected it to last so long and in such a steady-state - with the lava effusing at a near-constant rate, and the ice-filled caldera (i.e. a large crater) also subsiding at a steady rate. It's keeping us in suspense though, as we simply don't know what will happen next. In the recent past Iceland's largest explosive eruption since 1947 occurred in 2011 at Grimsvötn, and the size of the eruption surprised everyone. This is becoming the 'forgotten eruption' as virtually nobody remembers it despite it erupting twice as much ash as the infamous Eyjafjallajökull., which, prior to 2010 was known to Icelanders as 'the quiet one'. Here's a surprising fact. Even if we had the exact same eruption happening today under exactly the same conditions, there would only be a fraction of the flights cancelled compared to 2010. If you want to know why, and/or have any other questions on Icelandic volcanoes, please come along and I will do my best to provide you with answers.”

Dave McGarvie is Senior Lecture and Staff Tutor for the OU in Scotland. He has been doing research in Iceland on and off for 32 years, with a recent focus on volcano-ice interactions, on investigating Iceland's largest explosive eruption since it was settled c.1100 years ago, and on exploring little-known volcanoes to better understand their past eruptive histories. He also has a project in Chile, exploring lava-ice interactions, and applying knowledge gained in Iceland to decipher ice thicknesses through time at a little known stratovolcano.

December 9th

The marine fauna of the Solway Firth and the proposed Marine Conservation Zone of Allonby Bay.

Jane Lancaster, Natural Power, Newcastle

Jane (who gave a talk about the Solway's mussel beds for our Café Sci seven years ago) has for many years carried out shore surveys on this side of the Solway, and more recently has been involved with underwater surveys for E.On around the Robin Rigg wind-farm. How has the fauna in the Firth changed during this period? What are Marine Conservation Zones, and what's special about Allonby Bay?


Jane Lancaster is Senior Marine Ecologist, working on environmental monitoring, for the renewable energy consultancy firm Natural Power.


September 23

Postcards from your brain: we wish we were there. On the (mis)uses of brain imaging.

Simon Cox, Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, Dept. of Psychology, Edinburgh

Popular media increasingly presents us with new discoveries from brain science, often accompanied by colourful images of the brain. Though bewitching, their reported significance and accuracy are routinely misleading. In spite of this, neuroimaging has been deemed submissible as  evidence in court and there is pressure from some quarters within governments, insurance companies and military agencies to adopt brain imaging for 'diagnostic' purposes. This same technology has also detected brain activity in a (very) dead salmon. So what can brain imaging actually tell us? It offers a unique opportunity to peer into the living human cranium, and I hope to convince you of its undeniable utility. However, understanding the limitations of the technology and its analysis can help to identify spurious claims, and clarify legal and ethical implications of the many (mis)uses of neuroimaging.

Simon Cox coordinates a longitudinal ageing study (the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936) and is an Associate Member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh. His research concerns the nature, potential determinants and cognitive impact of brain ageing.
Faced with the prospect of talking about brain imaging without any images, he plans to cheat slightly. Illustrations to accompany the talk will be distributed in postcard form.



Anatomy of Cyber Attacks.

Awais Rashid, University of Lancaster

"Have you ever wondered what role Zero Days, viruses, trojans, rootkits and other such technologies play in cyber attacks? How do hackers compromise systems, what information do they extract and should we even care? In this talk, I will discuss these issues as well as provide insights into how attackers extract what is most valuable in the modern digital world: data."

Professor Awais Rashid is Director of Security, Lancaster Research Centre at Lancaster University. He studies cyber security challenges at integration points in large-scale systems and infrastructures in order to unravel their impact on cyber resilience of individuals, organisations and infrastructures. He also researches privacy, in particular, how to empower users of online services, and development of software technologies to protect vulnerable user groups (e.g., children and young people).



"Faster, lighter, stronger, cheaper" - how manufacturing technology is driving the aerospace industry forward.

Andrew Schofield, BAE Systems

Exciting new materials in the aerospace industry: Andrew will discuss how manufacturing technology at BAE Systems has changed from the production of legacy aircraft, such as Hawk and Tornado, to current aircraft, such as Typhoon and F35 Lightning II – and the challenges of future aircraft programmes.  Throughout this transition, the application  of new materials has consistently underpinned the development of manufacturing processes.  Likewise, advanced processing techniques have necessitated improvements in materials.

Andrew Schofield is Head of Manufacturing & Materials Engineering in the Military Air & Information business within BAE Systems, and is responsible for the development, deployment and subsequent governance of all engineering processes, technology and capability used across a variety of military aircraft products. He has experience of the full lifecycle of the aircraft products ranging from conceptual studies for future aircraft projects through to providing support to aircraft in operational service. He is also Chair of the Advanced Manufacturing & Design National Technical Committee and interfaces with a number of Technology Centres in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

Tuesday January 21st 2014

Cancer metastasis- the last great frontier for cancer therapies?

Laura Machesky


Cancer metastasis is the most deadly aspect of most cancers, yet we have no therapies against metastasis other than removal of the primary tumour.  We also lack understanding of the mechanisms by which a cancer cell in a tumour can move from one site in the body to another and thus seed a new tumour (metastasis).   I will discuss some of the ways that we and other groups are studying cancer spread and how basic understanding of how cells move will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of cancer metastasis.


Laura Machesky is a senior research group leader and Professor at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and Glasgow University College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences.  She completed her Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA and then moved to the UK for her scientific career.  She studies cell migration and invasion and is interested in applying this toward the goal of developing new understanding and therapies for cancer metastasis.



Tuesday 25th February 2014

Please book from Tues 18th by phoning Mike Rose-Troup on 01900 826903

Fuel cells and hydrogen: the future?

Richard Dawson


Fuel cells and batteries have much in common and although fuel cells  have been long promised but never delivered they are now closer than ever before. Costs are coming down, durability is up, storage is becoming standardised and genuine products have been developed. The talk will include a little about hydrogen as an interesting energy storage intermediate or source, the principles of operation which apply to all electrochemical energy conversion devices, the wide and varied types of fuel cells, the applications from hand-held through to multi-MW stationary installations and end with something about the future.


Dr Richard Dawson is a Lecturer in Engineering at Lancaster University.



Tuesday 18th March 2014


David Petley


David Petley's research interests lie primarily in the understanding of landslides and landslide mechanics, especially in high mountain areas within less developed countries. This includes research on  mechanisms of fracture generation and growth, the ways in which first-time failures develop and the use of remote sensing, especially with respect to landslide mapping and monitoring. He blogs at the landslide blog about landslide and rockfall events happening worldwide, including maps of the locations of fatal events.


Professor David Petley is Co-Director, Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience in the Department of Geography, Durham University.



Tuesday 15th April 2014

Life at the limits - the physiology of high altitude

Andrew Murray


Human performance in the rarefied atmosphere of the mountain environment is extremely variable. Some remarkable individuals have been able to ascend to the summit of Everest, even without the use of supplementary oxygen, whilst many others suffer from crippling altitude sickness at much more moderate elevations. This talk will introduce current research into acclimatisation to high altitude in lowland dwellers, and the evolutionary adaptation of high altitude populations residing in the high Himalaya or Andes. Links with exercise performance and reproduction will be considered along with the latest ideas on how the ability to launch an effective response to low oxygen at altitude might be associated with improved outcome in critically ill patients.



Dr Andrew Murray is a University Lecturer in Physiology at the University of Cambridge, and one of the co-principal investigators of the Caudwell Xtreme Everest Hypoxia Research Consortium. He has been a Research Leader on two expeditions to Everest: Caudwell Xtreme Everest in 2007 and Xtreme Everest 2 in 2013.



Tuesday 10th December  2013

Sheep, science and sustainability    

Dianna Bowles

There are many projects nationally and globally directed towards food security and how to ensure supplies within the context of changing climates and the urgent need to become economically and environmentally sustainable. Some 40% of land in England is grassland and much of that is in the uplands. Sheep production can offer a means of making the most of conditions that can no longer support other sectors of agriculture. But, currently all sorts of issues arise that obstruct the potential of sheep farming. The presentation will consider how science - and mindset - can help to benefit farmers, consumers and the environment.    

Dianna is now an Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of York, where she founded and directed the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products. A plant biochemist by training, she was interested in how plant natural products can benefit society, such as through their positive impacts on human health. She was a Bill Gates grantee for six years, working on a plant-derived medicine for treatment of malaria, as well as being involved in policy decisions, such as Chairing the External Advisory Group for the EC in Agriculture, Food and Biotechnology. She is also passionate about the worth of Herdwick sheep and has kept a flock for some 20 years, as well as founding The Sheep Trust and setting up the rare breeds' gene bank during the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic. 

Tuesday November 19th 2013

Enhancing what? Enhancing who? Enhancing why? Social aspects of the human enhancement debate

Martyn Pickersgill


Martyn writes, "Ideas about ‘human enhancement’ have come to be increasingly evident and debated within the bioethical literature. They’ve also become seen as things that scientists and scientific institutions can and should have something to say about. Discussions tend to focus on specific drugs or technologies that will, or could, make people ‘better than well’. This has led to fresh debate about how the boundaries between ‘therapy’ and ‘enhancement’ can be drawn. In this short talk, I will summarise some of the techniques of enhancement that have been discussed by academics, and what has been thought to be necessary to enhance. In so doing, I will also bring up some of the ethical issues that have been raised, and discuss how they might resonate with everyday concerns. Finally, I’ll reflect on what I think some of the social factors are that (a) shape all this, and (b) are left out of the discussion." 

Martyn Pickersgill is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Biomedical Ethics, Centre for Population health Studies, Univ of Edinburgh. He is a sociologist of science, technology and medicine. Since his doctoral research on the historical sociology of psychiatry at the University of Nottingham, he has held grants and fellowships from the AHRC, ESRC, Newby Trust and Wellcome Trust on the social and ethical dimensions of neuroscience, neurology and psychology. Martyn’s work has appeared in major journals, and his co-edited book, 'Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences', was short-listed for the 2012 British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Book Prize. He has been a visiting scholar at institutions such as Harvard University, New York University, and the US National Institutes of Health, and in 2011 Martyn was elected as an inaugural member of the Young Academy of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.


Tuesday Sept 17th

Atoms under the microscope: from materials science to tomorrow's data 

Dr Donald MacLaren, University of Glasgow


Consumers are used to storing ever more photos, movies and music onto ever-expanding hard-drives and memory cards. Technologists, on the other 
hand, worry how this insatiable appetite for cheap data storage can be maintained. Certainly, the current trend to miniaturise devices is unsustainable, since atomic dimensions provide a fundamental limit on any technology. Entirely new solutions are, therefore, required. Donald MacLaren is a Research Fellow and materials physicist and spends much of his time using electron microscopy to study materials for next-generation data storage. One particularly exciting area of research is the development of 'complex oxide' structures that could become a more versatile platform than conventional silicon technologies - if their properties and processing can be tamed they could transcend today's binary flash-memory.


Tuesday 16 April 2013

Making the most of your genes

David Elliott

Why are human genes thousands of times longer than they really need to be, how did this come about and why it is important for making our bodies work?


Tuesday 19 February 2013

Sap rising: how trees spring to life

Ted Wilson

In this talk, we explore one of the wonders of Nature - the leafing out and regeneration of trees after winter dormancy and the heralding of spring. What seems so simple and intuitive is in fact the product of myriad processes, interactions and stimuli working in a highly ordered and coordinated manner. This has largely been accomplished through evolution, which has equipped trees with an ability to "fine tune" to their local environment. Our understanding of the physiology of trees is still emerging, but is critical at a time of dramatic climate and environmental change. 


Tuesday 15 January 2013

The male and the female brains: same or different?

Laura Nelson

Dr Laura Nelson is going to talk about what is a taboo and controversy to many people: men's and women's brains. As she dissects the landscape of science underlying the gender debate, she'll be unpicking the myths that have strong influences on how you perceive yourself and others. Do you feel de-motivated in your work or creativity, lacking in confidence or just a little bit irritable, lonely or miserable some of the time? Imagine being able to train your brain so you never have a bad job, a bad relationship or even a bad day again in your life. Laura gives people the tools to understand and overcome the negative emotional patterns that curb their success and happiness; her unique specialty is the powerful influence of gender stereotypes and their link with deep-rooted psychological limitations. 


Tuesday 18 December 2012

Judith Brown and Cockermouth Cafe Scientifique


Tuesday 20 November 2012

Meditation in the lab: The mind from without and from within

Peter Malinowski

The scientific investigation of meditation and mindfulness practices is currently exploding. A growing number of studies show beneficial effects of regularly engaging in mindfulness practices, evident in various measures of wellbeing and psychological functioning. The talk will introduce some of the main research strands of current meditation research and discuss some of the latest findings. What do scientists discover when analysing meditators with their empirical, third person methods? And how does the process of meditation look from the perspective of the meditator?

Tuesday 16 October 2012 

Fracking : the price of shale gas extraction

Ernie Rutter

Professor Rutter works in the University of Manchester’s Rock Deformation Laboratory and is an expert on earthquakes, landslides and natural rock deformation. He made frequent media appearances during the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami to explain the tragic events. He has made major contributions to the field of structural geology and the physics of natural rock deformation over four decades. In April 2011 he  was awarded the Louis Néel Medal from the European Geophysical Union for his pioneering work in natural rock deformation. The award, which has been running since 1993, rewards the scientists who achieve outstanding results in ‘the fertilization of the earth sciences by the transfer and application of fundamental theory and/or experimental techniques of solid state physics.’

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Northern lights and space weather

Jim Wild

Jim Wild studies the space environment and the links between the Sun, the Earth and other planets.

Jim studied for a degree in Physics with Space Science and Technology before completing a doctorate in solar-terrestrial physics at the University of Leicester. He is now a Reader in Space Plasma Physics at Lancaster University’s Department of Physics.

His research investigates the physics behind the aurora borealis (sometimes known as the northern lights), the impact of space weather on human technology and the interaction between the Martian atmosphere and the interplanetary environment. As well as exploiting an international flotilla of satellites, Jim’s research has regularly taken him to the high arctic to carry out experiments.

 Tuesday 17th April 2012

The neuropsychology of love and fidelity

Sonia Tucci

Sonia will introduce the psychology of love by briefly explaining the process responsible for attraction and  romantic love, then focus on some findings that relate to neurological mechanisms behind monogamy and fidelity.

Tuesday March 20th 2012

The science of epigenetics

Adrian Bird

The discovery of the double helix, and the more recent mapping of the human genome were major scientific breakthroughs, yet they have left more questions than answers. Why, for example, does one set of genes (DNA) express itself as a caterpillar, yet exactly the same set of genes also express itself as a butterfly? Why can genetically identical cells perform functions as different as a brain cell and a liver cell in a single organism? 

Geneticists study the gene. However, for epigeneticists, there is no obvious 'epigene'. Nevertheless, during the past year, more than 2,500 articles, numerous scientific meetings and a new journal were devoted to the subject of epigenetics. It encompasses some of the most exciting contemporary biology and is portrayed by the popular press as a revolutionary new science — an antidote to the idea that we are hard-wired by our genes. So what is epigenetics?


Tuesday 21 February 2012

The language of Babel

Padraic Monaghan

What do we know about the origins of language? Is language encoded in our genes, or is it just that humans are better than any other species at learning? What is the variety in the world's languages today, and are there any commonalities across all languages? Padraic will describe how modern psychology and linguistics are beginning to provide answers to these fundamental questions about the development of human communication. 

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Experimenting with extreme cold

Rich Haley

The pursuit of extreme cold is a never-ending quest towards the “infinity” of the absolute zero of temperature at a very chilly -273.15 degrees Celsius. The element helium plays a pivotal role in this conquest. Initially discovered as a mystery spectral line in the sun (“Helios”), it was later isolated on Earth as a rare gas and first liquefied just over 100 years ago, at 4 degrees above absolute zero. When cooled further by forced evaporation rather than solidifying, a completely new state of matter appeared. The helium had undergone a phase transition from a regular liquid into one that flows without any friction: a “superfluid”.

January 18th 2011

Bears, cattle and a sense of wildness - managing for a Wilder Ennerdale

Gareth Browning: 

The Wild Ennerdale Partnership has been managing the Ennerdale Valley for 7 years with a vision of allowing it to become a wilder place for the benefit of people, whilst relying more on natural processes to shape its landscape and ecology. Gareth will talk about the valley's history, its future, and the insights it is giving into working with natural processes. You will also have the opportunity to share in developing the review of the valley's management plan.

March 15 Ian MacKenzie:  'Stem cells and medicine'

Stem cells - ultimately the source of all of our tissues and organs - have now been in the news for several years but genuine scientific hope that stem cell manipulation can ameliorate a wide range of medical problems is sometimes undermined by a potential for hype and misrepresentation. However, as a result of research with stem cells and tissue-engineering, some burns victims are still alive, some of the blind can now see, and some of the lame can now walk. More is yet to come and two recent developments seem to be of great importance. Firstly, personalized stem cells can now be made without using embryos, a development that by-passes many ethical issues, if not the issue of the expense of medical care. Secondly, the stem cells that underlie cancer spread have now been identified. One in five of us dies of cancer, and therapies successfully targeting cancer stem cells may provide a major clinical benefit of stem cell research.

April 12TH  Michael Otsuka: ‘Trolleyology’

Most people regard it as seriously wrong to kill one person in order to transplant his vital organs into the bodies of five who will otherwise die. Most also think it permissible, however, to divert a trolley (a.k.a. tram) that is hurtling towards five people onto a side-track where it will kill one person instead. The ‘trolley problem’ is that of explaining why it is permissible to save five at the cost of killing one in the trolley case but not the transplant case. Several philosophers have proposed moral principles to distinguish these cases. But some psychologists who have monitored the brain activity of people when they think about trolley cases have come to the conclusion that these principles are simply rationalizations of unjustifiable emotional responses. 

September 27th  John Macfarlane:  The use and abuse of antibiotics in the community: who’s to blame and what can we do about it?

Each year millions of courses of antibiotics are prescribed in primary care,  many for acute respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, ear ache, coughs, colds, bronchitis and ‘chest infections’, which are the commonest reasons for GP consultation in the UK. In spite of good evidence that they do little to influence the natural history of such symptoms for most people, up to three quarters of adults who consult with acute chesty symptoms may receive an antibiotic prescription, even when the doctor feels it is not clinically indicated. Excess antibiotic use relates directly to increasing bacterial antibiotic resistance (which is now a huge problem in some countries) and antibiotic failures, cost, side effects and allergy, as well as encouraging a cycle of dependence on the antibiotic prescription for both the patient, the doctor, and the wider community. Does the right of the individual patient to have an antibiotic ‘just in case’ override the responsibility to the community for antibiotic ‘stewardship’? Why are we in this situation and what we can do about it?

October 25th Pat Monaghan,The sands of time: how fast do they run?

Why do some animals have much longer lifespans than others? Is it simply a matter of size, or is there more to it than that? Well yes there is, a lot more. It is certainly true that big animals like elephants tend to have longer lifespans than little ones like mice. But some groups of animals seems to have evolved the capacity for long life. Birds for example live on average around three times as long as mammals of the same body size, and even some very small birds can live upwards of 50 years. And this is despite their physiology being geared for living in the fast lane. How do they do it? Furthermore, even within the same species, potential lifespan varies greatly. What makes the difference? It is not just genes that are responsible  – early life conditions play a major role in influencing the rate of deterioration in old age.

November 15th Hardy Radke: Biogas from Anaerobic Digesters as an energy source

Dryholme Farm at Silloth is the site of a new Anaerobic Digester (AD) plant, built by Lancashire firm Farmgen. Hardy Radke is the  Operations Director of the company, which hopes that the Cumbrian scheme will provide a much-needed boost to the rural economy, as well as helping Britain reduce carbon emissions and increase its future security of energy supply. The plant will use animal slurries, grass silage and other crops from fields surrounding the farm to create biogas, which is then used to generate electricity. 


January 19th  Jeff Warburton:  Rain on the fells – fells  in the Lake

The Northern Lake  District  has been affected by several memorable floods in recent years. However, do we know the impact of these events on the  fells and are the mountains  being washed into the  lakes? In  this  session we  can discuss this  question and explore how changes of the recent past and likely future impacts might influence erosion on the  mountains.

February 9TH Jeremy Taylor: We're not chimps!

The chimpanzee genome differs from that of humans by a relatively small amount,  they show emotions similar to our own, make and use tools, and are capable of some degree of empathy and altruism. As a result many people have argued that we are "the third chimpanzee" and, more controversially that  "chimps are people too!" Jeremy Taylor will, however, describe how recent comparative genomic research has widened the gap between us and the other great apes, and that there are many aspects of our cognition that are unique in the animal kingdom. We are not chimps.

March 16th Lewis Dartnell:  Astrobiology - the search for alien life

'Astrobiology' is a brand new field of science, encompassing research into the origins and limits of life on our own planet, and where life might exist beyond the Earth. But what actually is 'life' and how did it emerge on our own world? What are the most extreme conditions terrestrial life can tolerate? And what would an alien actually look like - how realistic are the life-forms envisaged by science fiction novels and films over the years?

April 13th: Lisa Ranford-Cartwright: Malaria - mankind's biggest enemy?

A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. The disease kills over a million people every year, and affects 40% of the world's population, mainly in the tropics and subtropics. Malaria was also widespread in Europe in the last century, and in the UK was common in the Thames and Medway estuaries and the Fens (Oliver Cromwell was a sufferer). Today there are a few thousand cases in the UK every year, contracted by people visiting countries where malaria is rife. How likely is malaria to come back to Europe and the UK? Can we ever eradicate this disease from the world, and how would we do this?

September 14th Nigel Catterson: Capturing tidal energy from the Solway

Nigel Catterson has been promoting and working on developing the concept of tidal energy capture from the Solway Firth for the past four and a half years. During that time much has changed in the
approach of how energy can be captured whilst minimising environmental impact. Nigel is working with a company that has a low tech, highly efficient, device that could provide water energy capture answers in a number of applications. Cumbria could be a leader in this sustainable energy  field.

October 12th Ken Macleod, University of Edinburgh: The Synthetic Kingdom

Craig Ventner's creation of a bacterium with a synthetic genome is a technological breakthrough. But the first response of many was to warn against hubris or hype. Neither warning is justified. We should 'play  God', and hype is - like it or not - part of the cycle from promise to progress.

November 16th Bronislaw Szerszynski: New technologies and risk: when experts and publics disagree

As most of us are well aware, even if the tabloids don't always seem to know, nothing is risk-free. Yet either public concern or opposition to new technologies is often said to demand freedom from risk, or the public is accused of misunderstanding, usually exaggerating, whatever risks the experts say are involved. 


January 20th Katja Wiech: Neuroethics – new answers to old questions?

Traditional ethical theory has centered on philosophical notions such as free-will, self-control, personal identity, and intention. The emerging field of neuroethics investigates these notions from the perspective of brain function. As an example we will look at the brain bases of moral cognition and its social and legal implications. How are decisions made in the brain? How are values represented? How are ethical decisions similar to or different from other types of decisions? How could a better understanding of the biological basis of moral cognition and behaviour modify our legal system? Will judges and juries in the near future be asked to make decisions bas