Previous events – Glasgow


Monday 5th February 2024
The return of the red squirrel: restoring an iconic native species to the north-west Scottish Highlands
Sarah Woodfin

The charismatic red squirrel is threatened with extinction across the British Isles and Ireland. Habitat loss, the invasive grey squirrel and the fatal disease it spreads have seen reds reduced to only a few ‘islands’ in parts of Wales and northern England. Three-quarters of the entire UK population is found in Scotland; the Scottish highlands are the most secure stronghold but red squirrels are still absent from much of the north-west highlands. In 2016, Trees for Life began successfully reintroducing red squirrels and have restored them to much of their former range, with eleven new populations created. Sarah will discuss the threats facing the red squirrel, the reintroduction projects undertaken and challenges in the conservation of red squirrels.


Monday 6th November
What’s bugging Glasgow?
Jeanne Robinson

Our insect populations are facing major challenges both globally and locally. Jeanne will discuss the science behind ‘insectaggedon’, explore the plight of our pollinators and other beneficial insects and look at the multitude of ways we can help support our insects.


Monday 2nd October 2023
Drugs, death and the legal system
Stephanie Sharp

Dr Stephanie Sharp, Forensic Pharmacologist, discusses some cases from her work, from the Old Bailey to Margate Magistrates Court.


Monday 3rd July, 7pm
Are psychedelics the future of psychiatry?
David Nutt

Psychedelic drugs, also known as hallucinogens, act on the brain to cause changes in perception, mood and cognitive functions. David will talk about research into how psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin [magic mushrooms] LSD and DMT (ayahuasca) work in the brain. He will also discuss the potential of psychedelic drugs as new treatments for mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and addiction.


Monday 2nd May 2022
Renewable energy: from extractivism to interactivism
Peter Clive

Renewable energy is at the forefront of a major change in the way we live our lives. Climate change is a consequence of an economic model in which finite resources are depleted and many of its consequences ignored. Renewable energy does not generate power by exploitation of a fuel that can be depleted, but by a sustainable interaction between ourselves and the environment. Wind energy is the key example of this. However, unlike conventional energy sources, wind is completely unregulated. This introduces complexity that requires multidisciplinary collaboration. As our economies are transformed by the move to renewable energy we will see our population form a partnership with the environment rather than appropriate its resources.

Monday 4th April 2022
From power posing to sexy armpits: how we can learn from bad science and do better
Tristram Wyatt

Amy Cuddy’s ‘Power Posing’ TED talk has been viewed almost 50 million times but despite its attractive plausibility, there’s no real effect: the original experiments couldn’t be replicated.

The reproducibility crisis has affected all parts of the life sciences but impressively, psychologists have responded constructively and creatively to their field’s very public ‘reproducibility crisis’ with new ways of doing experiments, such as registered reports and open science.

Tristram will tell the story of the putative human pheromones androstadienone and estratetraenol which, despite never having been shown to be pheromones, have been the subject of some 60 studies claiming ‘significant’ positive results.

Monday 7th March 2022
Danny Renton

Danny Renton, the founder and CEO of the Scottish charity, Seawilding, will talk about community-led efforts to restore biodiversity to Loch Craignish in Argyll and Bute. Over five years, the charity aims to restore one million native oysters to the loch and it has started Scotland’s first seagrass restoration project; planting 124 hectares of seagrass in 2021, with aims to double that in 2022. It will also share these low-cost, best-practice restoration methodologies with other coastal community groups.

Monday 7th February 2022
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: glimpsing the cosmic dawn with the James Webb Space Telescope
Martin Hendry

In December 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched from French Guiana on a million-mile journey to its final orbit, from which it will revolutionise our view of the distant universe. With a 6.5m wide mirror, JWST is much larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will probe even deeper into the cosmos, searching for the light from the very earliest stars and galaxies.

University of Glasgow astronomer Martin Hendry tells the story of JWST: the infra-red technology behind this remarkable space telescope, the extraordinary engineering challenges that were faced in getting it to orbit and the big science questions about the origin and evolution of the universe that we hope it will help us to answer.


Monday 6th December 2021
What will it take to revive our rivers?
Christine Colvin

Our rivers are indispensable – the arteries of healthy landscapes, they connect ecosystems, bring us essential drinking water and form natural places we love. But for so long, in many nations including the UK, they have been used as waste conveyor belts, receiving the brunt of waste and water mismanagement in towns and on farms. We know our rivers are in a terrible state, and every time we lift the lid, we find more and more pollution. From micro-plastics to panty-liners, our rivers are awash with horror stories. What will it take to revive them and have we left it too late?

Monday 1st November 2021
Coastal change in Scotland: can we cope?
Jim Hansom

What is the extent and rate of coastal erosion in Scotland and what is its impact on our coastal assets and communities? If we had asked this question seven years ago, no one in Scotland could have provided an accurate answer. The Dynamic Coast project addressed this information gap in 2017. The data, updated in 2021, show the extent and rates of erosion have increased over recent decades, with modelling showing increased losses into the future due to sea level rise driven by greenhouse gas emission forcing climate change.

Our response is to achieve Net Zero emissions as quickly as possible BUT on its own, this will not be enough. Increases already locked into the system due to current emissions will impact our coastal assets, infrastructure and communities. High-level planning instruments are in place to encourage more sensitive coastal development and adaptation, but scant evidence currently exists that this is occurring on the ground, and we continue to allow development in sites that are anticipated to be at erosional risk by 2050.

Monday 4th October
Living & Working with the Menopause
Rachel Weiss, Abby Fraser & Dinah Tobias

Featuring three leading researchers and practitioners:
Rachel Weiss, founder of the Menopause Café & world-leading ‘FlushFest’
Abby Fraser, medical anthropologist researching Menopause in pandemic & ‘normal’ times
Dinah Tobias, founder of Blooming Menopause, helping women & organisations navigate menopause at work.

Monday 6th September 2021
Rewilding Scotland
David Hetherington

Over the centuries, Scotland is thought to have lost eight species of large land mammal, as well as a wide range of other wildlife, due to a range of human pressures such as deforestation, wetland drainage, overhunting and persecution. Lost species started to be actively restored to the Scottish countryside in the 18th century, but many are still missing or absent from large areas. As Scotland strives to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis by for example, significantly expanding woodland cover and restoring damaged wetlands and peatlands, are we willing to consider sharing our countryside with missing animals such as large carnivores, considered for so long to be anachronistic in modern, economically-flourishing landscapes but which nevertheless can have a significant ecological role to play?

Monday 2nd August 2021
Citizen Science: How to Engage with Millions of People
Roger Highfield

Roger will discuss his fascinating experiences in engaging the public. Over several years, he has conducted various mass experiments in collaboration with the BBC from Megalab and Live Lab, to online cognitive tests on 44,600 people.

Monday 7th June 2021
The science of communication
Sophie Scott

Do women and men have different speech patterns/styles? Do men really interrupt more? Do women really defer more if there is an overlap? In other words, do gender (or cultural) differences really exist – and if so, what are they and what is their significance for the way we communicate?

Sophie Scott is the Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Monday 3rd May 2021
Pandas: it’s not all black and white
Iain Valentine

The charismatic giant panda is a global conservation icon and the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund. And for good reason. After decades of successful conservation work in China, wild panda numbers are starting to recover but they remain at risk, with human activities continuing to be the biggest threat to their survival.

Monday 5th April 2021
With a little help from psychology: using effective learning strategies
Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel

What is the best way to study? Are we intuitively already using the most successful learning strategies? What does research in Cognitive Psychology (an area that – among other things – investigates how our memory works) suggest and what are the practical implications that we can use to inform our learning and teaching?

Monday 1st March 2021
How to be an animal
Melanie Challenger

Think you’re an animal? Think again… For thousands of years, our myths and even seemingly rational beliefs have told us that humans are split between an animal bit and a spiritual bit – the body and the soul/the body and the mind. It follows that our animal bodies have been thought of as somehow lesser or even something we can engineer or escape. But is this true or even possible?

Monday 1st February 2021
Navigating the long-term consequences of COVID-19 in Scotland
Joanne McPeake

The short-term health and social impact of COVID-19 in Scotland has been well documented. Less is known about the long-term health consequences of COVID-19 for patients and the healthcare system.


Monday 7th December 2020
Educational and health outcomes among children treated for chronic conditions: how do we use population-wide (big) data and what do they tell us?
Michael Fleming

Health and education probably have a bidirectional relationship. Targeted health promotion and education around healthier behaviours can directly improve our health outcomes, while broader improvements in educational attainment, particularly in childhood and adolescence, can indirectly enhance our long-term health and wellbeing through increased employability, higher income, greater social mobility, and better quality of life. But is poor health one of the many factors that can set up barriers to achieving a good education?

What are the advantages, disadvantages, strengths, limitations and challenges of this type of research both generally and with respect to educational and health outcomes in children?

Scotland is world-leading in its ability to carry out this type of research, owing to routinely collected and well-maintained national administrative datasets and a strong track record of linking records for research purposes.

Monday 2nd November 2020
Recycle for another life-cycle: organ donation
Radha Sundaram & David Shaw

It is widely known that organ donation saves lives. Yet while more than 90% of the Scottish public would receive an organ if they needed and donate, only 50% are on the organ donor register.

Radha will set out the context, clinical importance, the change to the law in Scotland, process at end of life and the diverse potential barriers to donation among our diverse society. David will introduce the concepts of donation, gifting and selflessness against a wider ethical framework and hopes to encourage debate about donation versus reusing /recycling.

Monday 5th October 2020
GW190521: the most massive black hole collision ever observed!
Daniel Williams

Monday 7th September 2020
Beneficial insects: why we need bugs!
Lorna Cole

When it comes to conservation we often think of the panda, the tiger or the mountain gorilla. But what about the humble bumblebee, ladybird or soil mite? Arguably, these critters can be just as majestic and beautiful and the role they play in our world is indisputably more important.

Dr Lorna Cole, from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), will be our guide to the vital roles these insects play in food production. We will meet the ferocious predators that are active in farmers crops, the multitude of insects that pollinate crops and the critters that keep our soil healthy.

Monday 2nd March 2020
What is the real cost of the EV revolution?
Christian Calvillo

With the increasing need to tackle climate change, electric vehicles (EV) seem to be a straightforward way to decarbonise transport but what will be the cost the EV revolution?
Christian will discuss the ‘pros and cons’ of the EV technology, and will try to find answers to some of the big questions around the costs of large-scale EV penetration. Should the government subsidise EVs to foster its adoption? Who (and how) should pay for the required infrastructure? How is this likely to affect electricity prices? What would be the impact on the economy?

Monday 3rd February 2020
Getting hot under the collar: menopause and HRT
Mahesh Perera

When is the menopause over? Can I do a blood test to diagnose it? How long can I be on HRT? Are there non-hormonal medications?

Mahesh will discuss pressing questions such as the symptoms of the menopause, the age of menopause onset, and the use of hormones (including testosterone!) in therapy and their potential side effects.

Monday 2nd December
Using stem cells to regenerate the heart
Ian McCracken

During a heart attack, a blockage in the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle prevents the delivery of critical oxygen and nutrients, causing a loss of heart muscle and subsequent impairment of heart function. Stem cells are unspecialised cells, capable of undergoing specialisation to many different cell types in response to certain stimuli. Recent advancements in stem cell biology have made it possible to use stem cells to produce different types of heart cells in the lab. Consequently, stem cell derived heart cells offer an exciting future therapeutic strategy to facilitate the regeneration of damaged heart tissue in patients with heart disease.

Monday 4th November 2019
Social robots
Emily Cross

Understanding how humans perceive and interact with others is a core challenge of social cognition research. This challenge is poised to intensify in importance as the ubiquity of artificial intelligence and the presence of humanoid robots in society spreads. The research undertaken by Emily and her group applies established theories and methods from psychology and neuroscience to questions concerning how people perceive, interact and form relationships with robots.

Monday 7th October 2019
Unravelling the clinical variation of motor neurone disease
Liz Elliott

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative condition, although the course of the disease is highly variable and difficult to predict: an exceptional example, Professor Stephen Hawking, survived for more than 50 years with the condition. Such clinical variation and a limited understanding of the disease’s basis presents a major challenge to the development and testing of urgently-needed targeted treatments.

Monday 2nd September
The discovery of pulsars: a Glasgow student’s tale
Jocelyn Bell Burnell

After Jocelyn Bell graduated in Natural Philosophy (aka Physics) from Glasgow University she headed south to Cambridge University to work for a PhD in radio astronomy. The change was striking, stimulating and scary. Overawed, she worked diligently, first building a radio telescope, then as its first user. Her diligence delivered not only lots of what the telescope was designed to deliver but something else as well ….

While a graduate student in radio astronomy in Cambridge, Jocelyn Bell Burnell inadvertently discovered pulsars, opening a new branch of astrophysics; work recognised by the award of a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.

Monday 5th August 2019
How the media frame cancer narratives
Sara Macdonald

Sara’s research focuses on public understanding of cancer and cancer risk and the sources of information that help us make decisions about health and lifestyle. Recently, Sara has been exploring representation of cancer in the media and questions how this influences our understanding and experience of cancer. Sara will discuss the ways in which the media report cancer risk and how personal cancer narratives and stories may shape our views. While we know that the media are an important source of information, Sara questions whether media organisations and journalists are aware of the influence and impact of cancer stories.

Monday 3rd June 2019
The interplay of sciences and arts in our perceptions of the world
John Brown & Rab Wilson

In CP Snow’s 1959 Reid Lecture his thesis was that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” was split into two cultures – the sciences and the humanities – and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

The 50 years since then have seen an accelerating growth in cross-fertilisations and festivals such as Jodrell Bank’s Blue Dot Fest, Wigtown’s Big Bang Weekend, and cross-cultural collaborations such as that between black hole physicists and the makers of the film, Interstellar. It has also seen new funding to promote public engagement with science. This resembles a return to the Enlightenment, when the great thinkers were commonly polymathic.

Monday 6th May 2019
Pumping Scottish lochs for renewable energy
Mark Wilson

Working to get more renewables into the UK’s electricity system is very important. Since 2014, the development of sites for pumped storage hydro generation has increased. Mark will discuss pumped storage, how it can hold large stores of energy, and the advantages of this approach: the nature of pumped storage means it can act as both a generator and a store of energy (the latter is particularly relevant when it comes to helping wind farms). It responds very quickly, powering up and down in a matter of seconds, which allows it to help address sudden spikes in demand or drops in supply. With a life of at least 50 years and perhaps more than 100, it is considered much more sustainable than other forms of storage. Once built the projects will also offset millions of tons of CO2 emissions per year.

Monday 1st April 2019
What does your voice say about you?
Phil McAleer

People tend to think of the world as a highly visual place, neglecting the fact that our primary means of communication is through sound; our voice. Voices have been steadily researched for the best part of a century and are now, given the recent influx of voice-based technology, becoming the focus of much attention. But what is in a voice? How is your voice produced? What does your voice reveal about you? And how can this information be used in our modern lives?

Monday 4th March 2019
Antarctica: the case of the missing water
Derek Fabel

When ice sheets grow, global sea level lowers. At the time of the last glacial maximum, about 22,000 years ago, the global sea level was about 132m lower than it is today. But estimates of the volume of ice held in the North American, Greenland, and Eurasian Ice Sheets add up to an ice-equivalent sea-level change of 104m. The missing 28m of sea level rise has previously been attributed to the less well-known Antarctic ice sheet. We now estimate that the Antarctic contribution since the last glacial maximum is closer to 9.9 m. So where is the missing 18.1m of global sea level?

Monday 4th February 2019
Not getting the flu: influenza and the inevitability of ignorance
Ed Hutchinson

In 1918-9 a new strain of influenza caused the most severe outbreak of disease in recorded history. In the century that has followed we have learnt a great deal about what causes influenza and why it can be such a severe disease. But even now, as in 1918, we still only see part of the picture. Ed will use influenza to consider the way ignorance is woven through our understanding of disease: the inevitable gaps in our scientific knowledge, the ways in which we ignore and misunderstand the risks posed by familiar diseases, and what degree of risk is acceptable when carrying out experiments to predict whether a virus is capable of causing a future pandemic.


Monday 3rd December 2018
Global warming in the Trump era
Derek Fabel

The principles of global warming have been known since the mid-1800s. Scientific evidence gathered since then is clear about what is causing the accelerated warming Earth has experienced in the last 50 years. The impacts of global warming are less certain but are largely considered negative. People generally do not welcome bad news, especially when that news comes with uncertainties. Sea levels will rise; how much or how fast is uncertain.

Uncertainty is part of science but in the ongoing global warming debate those who feel threatened by the actions needed to mitigate global warming use it to generate confusion. In previous environmental debates, the broad public understanding of the science enabled policy-makers to act on that scientific knowledge. Inward-looking politics, and narratives that attempt to undermine public confidence in experts, add to the challenge of fostering broad public understanding. We need to enlist everyone who benefits from climate science to meet this challenge; scientists’ voices are essential but on their own, insufficient.

Monday 5th November 2018
Menopause matters
Heather Currie

Often referred to as “the change”, the menopause refers to the biological stage in every woman’s life when periods stop and the ovaries lose their reproductive function. Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but in some cases, women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger.

The recent launch of the NICE guideline on the diagnosis and management of the menopause was a monumental menopausal moment! For the first time, leading experts in the field have examined all the existing evidence to create information and advice that will not only enable women to better understand the consequences of the menopause and make informed choices about their treatment but also ensure that healthcare professionals can provide women with evidence-based information about the benefits and risks of different treatment options, to come to decisions on an individual basis.

Monday 1st October 2018
Can art ever inform science?
Jacqueline Donachie & Darren Monckton

The relationship between art and science is one that had been long discussed before, and has been since, CP Snow lamented the division in his famous 1959 “Two Cultures” lecture. Human geneticist Darren Monckton, and contemporary artist Jacqueline Donachie will explore how different the two cultures really are. Jackie and Darren have collaborated over a number of years, including producing together the art work ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’, which was presented at an exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery and Museum. Many artists have been successful at using art to explore scientific concepts but does art ever inform science? Can artists do science? Can scientists do art? Darren and Jackie will share their own experiences.

Monday 3rd September 2018
Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ignore
(The heart has its reasons that reason ignores)
Narwwar Al-Attar

Narwaar Al-Attar will take us through a journey of severe heart failure, the options available and the role of surgical techniques in the management of these incredibly sick patients. He will tell us the story of one very remarkable patient where love really did conquer all and save his life! Narwaar will discuss the patient’s journey after an acute heart attack and follow (partly on film) the remarkable contributions of loved ones, nurses, physiotherapists, intensive care physicians, surgeons and the donor.

Monday 6th August 2018
Meet your emotional homunculus: how understanding brain science can have a positive impact on our relationships
Andrew Boyd and Sara Watkin

Ever get the feeling that your body has a mind of its own? The Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution’s (SCCR) latest campaign asks us to meet our ‘Emotional Homunculus’, the part of the brain that determines how we perceive and react to things – particularly in conflict situations – based on our emotions and learned responses.

Inspired by the biological concept of the cortical homunculus – the part of the brain that physically perceives external stimuli and causes the body to react accordingly – the Emotional Homunculus takes into account the importance of emotions in brain science and mental well-being.

Understanding how the emotional homunculus responds to the world around us, and the effect this has on our bodies, feelings and thoughts is a crucial link in relating science and medicine to awareness about mental health in a wider social context. The emotional homunculus provides exciting opportunities to explore the body-mind connection, mental health and wellbeing, relationships and family conflict, combining the science of brain chemistry and evolution, human interactions, psychological practice and to get us thinking about what makes us uniquely human.

Monday 4th June 2018
Water moulds are natural-born killers
Pieter van West

Pieter will focus on the damage that water moulds (oomycete pathogens) inflict on our farms, in aquaculture and in the wider environment. Water moulds are fungal-like organisms that cause many economically and environmentally important diseases in fish such as trout and salmon, and other animals, in Scotland and further afield. They can infect plants, algae, fungi, animals and even other oomycetes. Pieter will highlight a few oomycete pathogens and give an insight about how they infect animals and how we try to control them with modern and innovative techniques.

Monday 7th May 2018
Poetry, physics and computing
Robert Crawford

Poet, biographer and critic Robert Crawford will discuss how his background in Glasgow helped him develop interests that led to his writing a series of poems relating to physics and computer science, as well as to his editing the book Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science.

Monday 2nd April 2018
Revolutions in light microscopy
Chas Nelson

Microscopy and imaging provide some of the most visually exciting and scientifically informative data available to the biosciences. Many revolutions have happened in light microscopy, from the development of fluorescent imaging to current advances in using artificial intelligence to produce super-resolved images. But there are still many challenges that must be solved by the combination of clever biology, clever physics and clever computing.

Monday 5th March 2018
Mapping the Clyde
John Moore

The Clyde is arguably the most evocative of Scottish rivers. Its name conjures a variety of images of power, productivity and pleasure, from its ‘bonnie banks’, through the orchards of south Lanarkshire, to its association with shipbuilding and trade and the holiday memories of thousands who fondly remember going ‘doon the watter’.

The story of the Clyde – and the attempts to map it over the years – reflects much of the history of the lands it flows through and the people who live on its banks.

Monday 5th February 2018
Plasticising the planet
Winnie Courtene-Jones

Plastics are an inextricable part of everyday life but there is growing concern about their impact on the environment. It is estimated that eight million tons of plastics enter our oceans annually. How does this plastic get into the ocean? Where does it go? What are microplastics? And what effect might plastics have on marine life and ultimately human health?


Monday 4th December 2017
What is lurking in your genes?
Kevin O’Dell

The first human genome sequence was completed in 2003. It was a remarkable project, involving thousands of researchers from all over the world, took 13 years to complete and cost something in the region of three billion dollars. Extraordinary progress in DNA sequencing technology now means that a machine that looks remarkably similar to a memory stick can determine yours or my entire DNA sequence in a week for less than £1000.

But how does this remarkable coding work and what does it say about us? What can our DNA sequence really reveal about our family histories, and what can we really discover about your ancient ancestors? And can our DNA really predict our future health and disease?

Monday 6th November 2017
The sleeping giant: the current state of solar activity
Ryan Milligan

The Sun has a natural 11 year activity cycle, and we are currently experiencing a lull in solar activity, known as the ‘solar minimum’. How does this quiet period affect modern life on Earth? What have we learned about solar activity during the current solar cycle (including the recent total solar eclipse that was visible across the continental United States)? And what can we expect from the next solar cycle, due to peak around 2022, when the next generation of solar telescopes will be online?

Monday 2nd October 2017
The operatic castrato and his anatomical abnormalities
Brianna Robertson-Kirkland

The operatic castrato was one of the most popular and sought-after voice types in eighteenth-century Europe. Yet the voice could only exist if pre-pubescent boys underwent a heinous operation to ensure they maintained their soprano voice. Not only was the voice of the castrato physically altered, his whole body was affected by the operation.

Monday 4th September 2017
Cosmic forensic science: how astronomers probe the properties of immensely remote objects
John Brown

Numbers in astronomy are commonly felt to be incomprehensibly large, although they are exceeded by many numbers in our everyday life. There are more stars out there than grains of sand on our beaches but that’s still fewer than the number of atoms in a sugar cube. Stellar distances, let alone those that cross the universe, are truly mind-boggling, as are the minimum and maximum densities of cosmic matter. But even more amazing is how we deduce the mass, density, temperature and so on of objects that are immensely remote in space and time.

Monday 7th August 2017
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Angela Lewis

The Grenfell Tower fire and the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester have highlighted the physical and psychological impacts of major disasters. Angela will share her insights on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) based on years of hands-on experience in Navy Coastguard helicopters, dealing not only with the victims of disasters and medical emergencies, but also considering the impact on those people working in the emergency services. She will discuss what PTSD really means for those involved, its causes and its long history, the difficulties of getting it recognised as a serious medical condition, and some of the issues involved in treating those who are affected by it.

Monday 5th June 2017
Should we avoid fat or sugar? Why is dietary advice so confusing?
Christine Edwards

We often complain that nutrition experts keep changing their minds about what we should eat or not eat. The latest demand is for us to eat less sugar, with a tax on sugary drinks looming. This has resulted recently in the re-formulation of many favourite (but “less healthy”) foods and drinks. Christine will explore how dietary advice policy is developed, the evidence it is based on, and what is a healthy diet.

Monday 8th May 2017
The Internet of Things, big data and networks: a mathematician’s perspective
Des Higham

The “Internet of Things” is the concept of connecting any device to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything with an on/off switch, including cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else we can think of. Ultimately, the Internet of Things should involve physical objects seamlessly integrating into the information network for social and economic benefit. At the heart of the Internet of Things are data; digital records of everything including humans (anyone seen ‘Persons of Interest’?!), technology and other interactions. These data streams are large-scale, varied and rapidly changing. Making sense of these data raises many interesting challenges for people working in mathematics, statistics, computer science and related disciplines.

Monday 3rd April 2017
Genetic and environmental factors influencing health and well-being
Donald Lyall

Genetic epidemiology research is about quantifying and understanding genetic contributions to health and well-being and their potential interaction with environmental and lifestyle factors. Donald will explore how genetic research helps us to understand the mechanisms of diseases like dementia, how it can contribute to better treatment and why it is currently such an exciting time to be a genetic epidemiologist. He’ll also discuss why you should take some headlines with a pinch of salt and why you should beware of a scientist’s file drawer!

Monday 6th March 2017
Genome vs epigenome: the clay and the mould
Douglas Vernimmen

Thirteen years ago, the Human Genome project sequenced the entire DNA in a human cell. Ever since, scientists have been trying to understand the meaning of the three billion letters that form the human genome and it has become clear that the ‘Book of Life’ can be biologically interpreted in different ways. Epigenetics is the study of a group of small molecules that affect the way genetic information is used, rather than the study of the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetics is strongly influenced by the environment, including the effects of nutrition, stress, physical activity and other factors. The most striking example is the case of identical twins (who have an identical DNA sequence), who appear identical during childhood but become more distinct during their adult life, even developing different diseases.

Monday 6th February 2017
Scotland’s Jurassic Park: new discoveries from the Isle of Skye and what they tell us about dinosaur evolution
Steve Brusatte

Fossils provide a perspective on evolution that is lost if we focus solely on living organisms. Only by studying fossils can we appreciate the great diversity of life throughout the earth’s history, and understand how groups change on a dynamic planet. One group of animals that is of particular interest is dinosaurs, including some that have been found on the Isle of Skye, Scotland’s Jurassic Park. How do these Scottish dinosaurs fit into the larger picture of dinosaur evolution? Where did dinosaurs come from and how did they rise to their position of dominance? Why did some evolve into birds while the rest became extinct?

Monday 5th December 2016

The Zika virus

Claire Donald

The current Zika virus outbreak is a major public health issue in the Americas. Although once thought to be innocuous, in a number of countries in the last ten years it has caused large-scale outbreaks that have been associated with neurological syndromes, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly, not observed in earlier infections. This unanticipated spread, combined with the new disease symptoms, led to the World Health Organization declaring a global health emergency in February 2016. How did this happen? What caused the virus to change? What were these changes? Should we be worried about what could happen to Zika and other viruses in future?

Monday 7th November 2016

Threats to Earth from space

John Brown and Massimiliano Vasile

In the earliest days of the solar system (approximately 1 to 5 billion years ago) its planets underwent heavy bombardment from space debris left from the proto-planetary nebula around the sun. Such impacts continue with diminishing intensity in ‘modern’ times. They probably caused mass extinction of species as recently as 65 million years ago, and at least two impacts in the last hundred years have come near to causing major human catastrophes. In the context of the bleak view promulgated by the Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees, and others that cosmic threats are inconsequential alongside near certain and imminent self-destruction by earth-bound human activities.

Monday 3rd October 2016

Scotland: the fat, sick man of Europe

Jennifer Logue

In the last century, Scotland was famed for its high levels of heart disease and general poor health. Much of this was related to socio-economic deprivation and lifestyle and life expectancy in parts of Scotland mirrored that of war zones. Now Scotland has a new crown: the most obese country in Europe, and world-wide, third only to the USA and Mexico. Jennifer will discuss some of the factors that these twin epidemics of heart disease and obesity share, the reasons Scots are so susceptible and work on possible solutions.

Monday 5th September 2016

Listening to Einstein’s universe: the discovery of gravitational waves

Martin Hendry

Gravitational waves are the so-called “ripples in spacetime” predicted one hundred years ago by Albert Einstein. They are produced by the most violent events in the cosmos: exploding stars, colliding black holes, even the Big Bang itself. On September 14th 2015 two giant laser interferometers, known as LIGO, the most sensitive scientific instruments ever built, detected gravitational waves from the merger of a pair of massive black holes more than a billion light years from the Earth. This remarkable discovery finally confirmed Einstein’s prediction and has been widely hailed as the scientific breakthrough of the century.

Monday 8th August 2016

Why do individuals differ in their metabolic rate?

Neil Metcalfe

People vary in their metabolic rate, even when they are under the same conditions – a phenomenon that has been seen right across the animal kingdom. Why should this be? Why should some individuals use far more food and oxygen than others doing the same task? What are the consequences? Why has evolution and natural selection not led to all individuals having the same ‘optimal’ metabolic rate?

Monday 13th June 2016

Can we give new biotech the green light?

Donald Bruce, Louise Horsfall & Helen Sang

Introducing modern biotechnology into society has caused debate, with many countries deciding to ban its use. Our discussion will focus on whether we should use these technologies, how we could use them and whether using them would make us less ‘green’ as a society.

Monday 9th May 2016

The living cell: a factory run by actors!

Rob Beynon

Is the cell a factory? Can we describe the cell as a ‘complex manufacturing complex’? Can we recognise parallels between manufacturing processes in our macro-world and the nano-world inside a cell? And lastly, do we know enough about these nano-factories to be able to subjugate them to our will, to make new drugs, new foods, new weapons? A famous, Nobel prize-winning scientist once said ‘DNA and RNA are the script, but proteins are the actors’.

Monday 4th April 2016

3D-printing drugs

Lee Cronin

3D-printing is an emerging technology which promises to revolutionise many areas of manufacturing processes, transforming the relationships between the design, manufacture and operation of functional devices. To date, 3D-printing technologies have been applied to varied applications but we are wondering how chemistry can be changed and inspired using 3D printing approaches.

Monday 7th March 2016

What makes an animal smart?

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. Lauren will talk about her research on learning and cognition in animals and discuss questions such as: what does it mean to be smart? How do we find out if an animal is smart? And are some animals smarter than others?

Monday 1st February 2016

The face is the mirror of the mind and the eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart

David Koppel

David will explore the many issues regarding the cutting-edge technology, patient need and ethical considerations of facial transplants. The first facial transplant took place in 2005 and since then, ther ehave been significant development, not only in transplant techniques but also in conventional reconstructive techniques. David will bring to life the functional and psychological impact of major facial disfigurement and the groups of patients and their families who are affected and the ethics of facial transplant.

Monday 7th December 2015

The science and art of brewing

Keith Lugton

Greek Gods preferred ambrosia but we Brits have generally stuck to beer. So, for our December Café Scientifique, what better way to celebrate the festive season than with Master Brewer Keith Lugton? Keith will take us through the basics of brewing – the biochemistry, microbiology and engineering that combine to bring us the perfect pint. He’ll explore how technological changes have affected the world of brewing and explain something of the brewer’s art – that special, added ingredient of knowledge and experience that helps him handle the challenges – and opportunities – that brewing can throw at him.

Monday 5th October 2015

Vision matters

Anita Simmers

Amblyopia (lazy eye) is the most common cause of visual impairment in children and affects three to four per cent of the general population. Amblyopia is commonly caused by a misalignment in the eyes, or one eye focusing better than the other, creating a difference in image quality, which leads to abnormal development of the visual areas of the brain. If untreated, it can cause permanent sight problems. The current favoured method of treatment involves blocking the vision of one eye with an eye patch for around 18 months. The mean time under hospital care is 35 months, and an average of 22 visits. There are also associated problems: children can be stigmatised, do not have full vision, and do not always comply fully with their treatment.

Friday 25th September

Why you should know your blood pressure

Rhian Touyz

This extra cafe was part of Explorathon (European Researchers’ Night)

Monday 7th September 2015

The times they are a-changin’ on Scotland’s coast

Jim Hansom

Scottish shores are moving inexorably landwards due to enhanced erosion and flooding driven by increases in sea level and storm impact together with dwindling coastal sediment supply. The pattern of coastal vulnerability is varied but the low-lying lands of the Western and Northern Isles, the Scottish east coast and the developed firths are at particular risk in the medium to long-term. To date our attempts at adaptation have been ineffectual and the scale and pace of adaptive provision needs to move up a gear if we are to cope with the changes in natural processes that are already under way.

Monday 10th August 2015

Viagra: Pasteur’s dictum rules! OK?

Simon Campbell

Drug discovery is a challenging art which requires scientific excellence, perseverance and some luck. In 1985, Simon and others started a research project seeking novel treatments for cardiovascular disease, but oh, were they in for a surprise! They designed new molecules that blocked their biological target but were bitterly disappointed when sildenafil (Viagra) showed no activity in clinical trials. Some suggested they abandon the compound, but they carried out a final study in student volunteers. Mild side effects were first reported but then one of the younger nurses shyly mentioned erections, which were a complete surprise. At almost the same time, new science was breaking around nitric oxide and they immediately rationalised how sildenafil (Viagra) could improve erectile function — a real-life example of Pasteur’s Dictum that “chance favours the prepared mind”. The rest is history. And there are no Viagra jokes left!

Monday 1st June 2015

Pain and suffering

Michael Brady

Pain and suffering are both widespread and varied: think of all of the very many kinds of pain, emotional distress, physical discomfort, and mental anguish that human beings experience. It is, moreover, widely agreed that all of these different forms of suffering are bad: we have reason to avoid, alleviate, and reduce our own pain and suffering, and that of others. However, suffering can also be valuable, and in many different ways.

Monday 27th April 2015


David Bhella

The recent outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa has highlighted the global threat to human health posed by viral emergence. International travel and climate change both have the potential to bring new and life-threatening diseases to our doorstep. Dr David Bhella will discuss the causes of viral emergence and what can be done to keep us safe from new viruses entering the human population. David will be accompanied by University of Glasgow scientists who have had first-hand experience of the current Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

Monday 30th March 2015

Drone warfare: a robotic future?

Ian Shaw

The world has woken up in the middle of a science-fiction present. Military pilots controlling unmanned drones called ‘Predators’ and ‘Reapers’ are able to track, target and eliminate human beings from thousands of miles away. Multi-million pound technological developments are creating drones capable of flying autonomously and co-operating in intelligent swarms. In a frank assessment, the Ministry of Defence (2011) warns that ‘There is a danger that time is running out – is debate and development of policy even still possible, or is the technological genie already out of the ethical bottle, embarking us all on an incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality?’ There is so much at stake in the age of the drone: what are the ethical and moral implications of robotic killings? Why are the traditional assumptions of geopolitics insufficient for understanding the rise of the machine? What is next for human security?

Monday 2nd March 2015

Intelligent lighting – a LED-led revolution?

Janet Milne

LED lights are appearing everywhere but what are LEDs, how energy efficient are they and can they really last for 20 years? How can something so small be revolutionising a global industry?

Monday 2nd February 2015


Massimilliano Vasile

Asteroids are a large group of celestial objects with the most intriguing variety of shapes, orbits, composition, gravity fields. Massimiliano Vasile of Strathclyde’s Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory will consider why we are interested in these objects, how we can control their motion and whether they represent a threat or an opportunity.

Monday 3rd November 2014

… and breathe! – the asthma challenge

Clive Page

Asthma is a common respiratory illness, usually starting in children under five years of age. We have effective treatments for many people with asthma but there remains a significant unmet need, particularly as the prevalence of this condition continues to increase, for reasons we do not fully understand.

Friday 26th September 2014

Under dark skies

Steve Owens

Explore the darkest skies in the world, from the Namib Desert to the Scottish wilderness, the fight to protect them and the threat posed by man-made light pollution.

Monday 1st September 2014

Crying wolf

Jo Foo

Is it time to reintroduce large predators to our countryside? Are we ready to live with wolves, bears and lynx in our midst?Re-wilding the Scottish Highlands is a popular topic but one that causes controversy for many. North America has made massive leaps in predator re-introductions over the past few decades. What can we learn from their experiences when we consider a Scottish countryside with an added level of ‘wild’?

Monday 11th August 2014

Athlete preparation: what can we learn for our own health?

Stuart Gray

For years sports science has been focussed on the optimisation of physical fitness and performance in athletic populations. It is now known that physical fitness is a very important component of health and there is a host of evidence that exercise is beneficial. Inrecent years, therefore, this knowledge has been applied in an attempt to optimise health and reduce the burden of many medical conditions, such as obesity, muscle wasting and cardiovascular disease. Stuart will discuss several examples of how our knowledge of athletes’ preparation and conditioning can be useful in preventing and treating these common diseases.

Monday 2nd June 2014

Anatomy drawing: where art and medicine meet

George Donald

In the early Renaissance, the roles of artist and scientist were closely associated, particularly in physiology and physics. The practice by artists of a sustained and visual exploration of the body’s anatomy still offers vital information. Such study also provides inspiration for visual, expressive and poetic endeavours.

Monday 12th May 2014

Scots who enlightened the world

Andrew Ferguson

Is the Scottish Enlightenment still relevant today? in his new book, Scots Who Enlightened the World, Andrew Ferguson explores the ideas of the Enlightenment through the lives of the great men – and women – who contributed, giving the story of the people behind the history. Some of the most exciting, creative and scientifically important discoveries, fundamental to our lives today, originated in Scotland as a result of the Enlightenment. What do television, pneumatic tyres, the telephone, steamships and antibiotics have in common? They were all invented by Scots.

Monday 7th April 2014

Pandas, primates and penguins – an introduction to zoo science

Alaina Macri

Giant pandas can eat over 30kg of bamboo in a day and eliminate up to 12kg of faeces! What happens to all that bamboo? What nutrients are digested and are they selective about what species of bamboo they eat? Edinburgh Zoo’s nutritionist is able to analyse what goes into and what comes out of our pandas to help gather insights into the best possible diet.

Monday 3rd March 2014

Glasgow Cafe Scientifique 10th Birthday Bash – Cafe Sci: ten years after

Helen Fraser: Astronomy 2024

Space exploration and discovery require long-term planning. Astronomers observing on the ground desire ever-larger telescopes and the next decade will see interferometric type telescopes such as ALMA, Lofar and e-Merlin, revolutionising our long-wavelength view of the universe. In the IR and visible 30-m class, telescopes are planned across the world to give unprecedented contrast imaging. Such advances are coupled with space satellites and exploratory missions in our own solar system. But are we being brave enough as scientists to really answer the questions we are posing or will the next ten years just see incremental steps? Is human participation really required to explore our local environment? If so, what is the future of science, from the ISS and beyond? Starting from the big questions, looking at the politics and the new players, Helen will try to investigate these topical issues.

Darren Monckton: Genetics 2024

The genetic material, DNA, held within the genome, contains all the information needed to generate an organism. It took fifteen years and $3,000,000,000 to sequence the first human genome; it now takes under a day. The fabled $1,000 genome will soon be a reality. In ten years’ time, if the NHS hasn’t already sequenced your genome, you will be able do it yourself using a USB module on your laptop and then compare it with millions of others via your phone. The genome of most of the known species on Earth will have been sequenced and genome sequencing will be de rigueur in nearly every area of biology and healthcare. It is coming, ready or not.

Richard Cogdell: BioFuels 2024

Richard will review the current status of biofuels and ask why we should be looking to produce alternatives to fossil fuels. Currently there are lots of ways to produce electricity that are both clean and renewable but electricity alone cannot provide for all our energy needs. Electricity is hard to store in the long term and without new electric grid structures, the intermittentcy that is inherent in current renewable generation processes requires a source of fuel (energy on demand) to buffer these fluctuations. What new strategies can be thought of to produce fuel? Can we use plants directly? Can we think of more novel solutions?

Monday 3rd February 2014

Life? Don’t talk to me about life… Building a sarcastic robot

Matthew Aylett

Artificial voices are increasingly becoming part of the world around us but will artificial speech ever sound emotionally convincing or convey the subtleties of human speech?

Monday 2nd December 2013

Life = H2O: Six (or perhaps seven) things you did not know about water

Colin Adams

In Glasgow we are surrounded by it; we take it for granted but this small, simple molecule has some very strange properties. It is responsible for shaping some of the most important processes on earth: life would not exist without it, Homo sapiens is not likely to have evolved and it forms the most unexplored, vulnerable and dynamic ecosystems on our planet.

Monday 4th November 2013

Seeing music and hearing colours

Maria Flor Kusnir

Synaesthesia is a remarkable form of anomalous perception; ‘synaesthesia’ originates from the Greek syn, meaning ‘union’, and aisthises, meaning ‘of the senses’; literally expressing a joining together of two senses in one experience. Synaesthetes ‘see’ music, ‘taste’ shapes, ‘feel’ colours and even perceive letters as coloured. Their synaesthetic percepts are so natural – like a sixth sense – that they generally don’t realise that they are experiencing the world in an unusual way. What is the neural origin of these experiences? Is this a unique phenomenon, or does everyone have the potential to become a synaesthete?

Monday October 7th 2013

Red hair and evolution in action

Ian Jackson

What causes red hair and why is it so common in Scotland? Red hair is due to variation in a gene called MC1R. It turns out that variation in this gene in many different animal species causes variation in hair or fur colour, and we can see evolution in action on some of these animals. Variation in the human gene is extremely common in Europeans, so that in the UK half of us are carriers of a red-hair form of MC1R. Whilst is well known that individuals with red hair have paler skin, carriers also have skin that is significantly paler than non-carriers. Has evolution in humans acted on this pale skin to select for frequent variation in MC1R? It seems that red hair may be a side-effect of evolutionary pressure to reduce skin pigmentation in Northern Europe

Monday 2nd September 2013

Searching for that God (damn) particle: the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider

Victoria Martin

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva is the largest scientific instrument ever built. It collides protons at extremely high energies to re-create the conditions that were present in the first billionth of a second after the big bang. By examining the data from these collisions, collected by the ATLAS experiment, physicists hope to identify the illusive Higgs boson which may explain how each of the fundamental subatomic particles acquire mass.

Monday 5th August 2013

Periodic success

Jamie Gallagher

The periodic table is an iconic classroom poster but behind each door on this elemental housing block lie amazing tales. Love, murder, greed, human endeavour and sacrifice are all to be found, as well as the charting of human history from the Iron Age to the exploration of Mars.

Monday 10th June 2013

Where have all the frogs gone?

Roger Downie

All over the world, many species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction, mainly from human-related causes. Biologists have suggested that we should name the current era the Anthropocene, the era dominated by humans. One group of animals seems to be in worse trouble than most: the amphibians (frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians), with 32% of species reckoned to be in the most threatened categories. A sad irony is that at the same time as we are calculating this threat, we are learning that the total number of amphibian species in the world is much greater than previously thought. Many species are likely to become extinct before their existence is properly recognised.

Monday 13th May 2013

A hitchhikers guide to gobsmackingly large astronomical numbers

John Brown

According to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space’.

Space is also fantastically old and, on average, utterly unbelievably empty, though in places it is unspeakably dense and exerts immense forces of gravity, magnetism and rotation.

Monday 8th April 2013

Depicting the dead

Caroline Wilkinson

Caroline will discuss the challenges associated with the identification of the dead from facial appearance, in relation to soft tissue reconstruction and skeletal assessment. She willalso describe the application of craniofacial superimposition, facial reconstruction and post-mortem depiction and discuss research that is evaluating the accuracy and reliability of these technique. Caroline will offer examples from forensic and archaeological investigations, including historical figures such as St Nicolas, JS Bach and Rameses II.

Monday 4th March

How’s the space weather today?

Iain Hannah

The Sun is our star, its heat and light vital to sustain life on Earth, yet it sporadically presents a serious threat to us and the technology upon which we rely. These changes to the local space environment, known as ‘space weather’, are driven by phenomena in the Sun’s atmosphere: wind, flares and coronal mass ejections. Iain will discuss how we can monitor these phenomena and predict their possible impact on Earth.

Monday 4th February 2013

Why is science important?

Stephen Breslin

Stephen will discuss the relevance and importance of science for society, children and the world and specifically, the role and relevance of science centres. He will discuss specific programmes and future plans in the Glasgow Science Centre and more broadly, the broader role of public engagement with science in Scotland and the UK.

Monday 5th November

Reliable renewable energy

Mark Symes

Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydroelectric) are seen as green and sustainable alternative power sources to fossil fuels. Indeed, we could obtain enough power from such renewables to meet the world’s current energy demands several times over. But what happens when the sun goes down, or when the wind doesn’t blow? How can you drive a car using hydroelectric power?

Monday 1st October 2012

Truths and myths in coronary heart disease: what do we need to know?

Rachel Myles

Coronary heart disease is a major global health problem and one particularly relevant to people in the west of Scotland. We’ve lived with this condition for generations and our collective experience has produced a number of common observations, only some of which are true. At the same time an enormous amount of research is happening; the health pages of our newspapers are filled with reports of scientific advances and advice about how we should live our lives. The results are pretty confusing: will heart disease be cured in our lifetime? Should we all drink red wine? Can you be too young to worry about this …?

Monday 3rd September

The first hyperactive kids

Matt Smith

Do you know someone with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)? Today, most people know a child or, increasingly, an adult whose impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention is such that they have been diagnosed with ADHD. They might even take drugs, like Ritalin, to treat their disorder. But did your parents know someone with ADHD? Did your grandparents? If they grew up in the UK, chances are they didn’t. So who was the first hyperactive kid? And why was his behaviour thought to be a problem worthy of a diagnosis and a prescription for stimulant drugs?

Monday 13th August 2012

Blame your parents

Kevin O’Dell

Ever wondered why you look and behave like you do? Your parents provided your genes (nature) and much of your environment (nurture), so in a sense however you’ve turned out it’s their fault. Even if you take the most casual look at your friends you’ll notice one inescapable fact, that they all look different.