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Maxwell Lectures

Semester 1: Mondays at 2pm in the Edmond J Safra Lecture Theatre, King's Building.

Semester 2: Mondays at 6pm in the Bush House Auditorium.

Safra HD

The Maxwell Society Lectures are a series of lectures on topical scientific issues that take place during term time. They are aimed at a general audience and all are welcome to attend, especially those from the other London universities.

Please click on the boxes below to view details of the lectures taking place in the 2017/18 academic year or visit the Maxwell Society Webpage.

Semester 1
Mondy October 2nd 2017
Professor Sean Carroll

Research Professor, Caltech

"Extracting the Universe from the Wave Function"

Quantum mechanics is a theory of wave functions in Hilbert space. Many features that we generally take for granted when we use quantum mechanics -- classical spacetime, locality, the system/environment split, collapse/branching, preferred observables, the Born rule for probabilities -- should in principle be derivable from the basic ingredients of the quantum state and the Hamiltonian. I will discuss recent progress on these problems, including consequences for cosmology and quantum gravity.

Monday November 6th 2017
Professor Ullrich Steiner

Professor of Soft Matter Physics, Adolphe Merkle Institute

"Nano-structured Energy Materials for Photovoltaics and Li-ion Batteries"

Emerging photovoltaic devices and lithium ion batteries, while governed by different underlying physical principles, have similarities in their materials requirements.  Dye sensitised solar cells and, to some extent their successor, perovskite based solar cells rely on intricately structured metal-oxide electrodes at the surface of which charge separation occurs.  In lithium ion batteries, ion-intercalation into the near-surface regions of metal oxides determine the capacity of super-capacitors and batteries.  In both applications, the detailed interplay of nano- and micro-structures and the details of materials properties (e.g. their structural connectivity and conductivity) play an important role.

Monday 4th December 2017

Dr. Steve Cross

Public Engagement consultant, Comedian, Host and founder of The Science Showoff

"Reports from the front-line of Science Communication"


Semester 2

29th January 2017 

Dr Shane Legg

Chief Scientist and Co-Founder, Google DeepMind


26th February 2017

Dr Jeremy Butterfield

Senior Research Fellow, Trinity College Cambridge

"A Philosopher Looks at Multiverse proposals"


26th March 2017

Dame Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Visiting Professor, University of Oxford

"Transient astronomy: bursts, bangs and things that go bump in the night"





Past Lectures:


Monday 15 February 2016

Sarah Barry, Department of Chemistry, King’s College London

How and why do microbes make antibiotics?

Soil microbes make a variety of structurally complex molecules known as natural products, many of which have antibiotic activity. In fact, the majority of clinically used antibiotics are derived from microbial natural products. In this talk we discuss why and under what circumstances microbes make compounds which have antibiotic activity and the biochemical mechanisms that are involved their production.  This area is a currently a major topic of research as we try to develop new antibiotics to treat the increasing instances of antibiotic resistant infections.


Monday 15 February 2016

Sarah Barry, Department of Chemistry, King’s College London

How and why do microbes make antibiotics?

Soil microbes make a variety of structurally complex molecules known as natural products, many of which have antibiotic activity. In fact, the majority of clinically used antibiotics are derived from microbial natural products. In this talk we discuss why and under what circumstances microbes make compounds which have antibiotic activity and the biochemical mechanisms that are involved their production.  This area is a currently a major topic of research as we try to develop new antibiotics to treat the increasing instances of antibiotic resistant infections.


Monday 8 February 2016

Stefan Hild, Department of Physics, University of Glasgow

Listening to the Universe; Using kilometre scale laser interferometers to detect ripples in spacetime

This talk will give an overview of the world-wide efforts to detect gravitational waves, small ripples in spacetime,originally predicted by Albert Einstein about 100 years ago. The observation of gravitational waves is expected to allow us to 'see' some of the most violent events in the Universe, such as supernovae, inspiralling black holes or even the aftermath of the big bang.


Monday 1 February 2016        

Nick Mavromatos, Department of Physics, King’s College London

The Hunt for Magnetic Monopoles

A magnetic monopole is a hypothetical elementary particle, initially conceived by Pierre Curie in 1894, with a quantum field theory version put forward by Dirac  in 1931, which is essentially an isolated elementary magnet with only one magnetic pole, carrying a ``net magnetic charge''. Its existence makes Maxwell's equations symmetric under the exchange of electric and magnetic fields ( sort of ``duality''). Its presence has important consequences for the quantisation of the electric charge, as argued by Dirac.  Modern interest in the concept stems from particle theories, notably the Grand Unified (GUT) and Superstring theories, which predict the existence of magnetic monopoles with finite mass, near the GUT mass scale, that is about 10^{-13} Kg. However, relatively recently, theoretical predictions became available for much lighter monopoles in (extensions of) the Standard Model of Electroweak interactions, of mass 10^{-24} Kg, corresponding to energy scales (TeV) accessible at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and thus producible in principle by particle collisions at the LHC. The talk will review the searches (and bounds) for such elementary magnetic monopoles (as opposed to non-isolated monopole-like ``quasiparticle'' structures that have been produced recently in condensed matter systems, such as spin-ice), with a wide range of masses, from GUT to TeV energy scales.  A particularly interesting experiment (among others at LHC) that looks for TeV-mass magnetic monopoles is the MoEDAL-LHC experiment, which bases its detection of monopoles on their high-ionisation properties as they pass through matter.


Monday 25 January 2016

Francisco Rodríguez Fortuño, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Spin-orbit interactions of photons: taking light for a spin.

In quantum physics it is well known that the spin of a particle can determine its motion: this is known as spin-orbit interaction. It is not so well known that Maxwell's equations can show the same effect with light. Contrary to the approximate assumptions of ray optics, in which rays propagate independently of light polarization, Maxwell's equations tell us that the spin of photons (their polarization) can affect their motion, under certain conditions. Although these spin-orbit effects of light are usually small, recent advances in nanotechnology have found ways to enhance them dramatically. This opens up very interesting applications in nanophotonics for light generation and switching of light through the control of its polarization. In this lecture I will introduce the general subject and then focus on the theory and experiments related to a very recent example of spin orbit interaction of light: the directional properties of circularly polarized sources, and its possible applications.


Monday 18 January 2016

Evgeny Kozik , Department of Physics, King's College London

Promises and challenges of correlated electrons

Quantum mechanical behaviour of a large number of interacting electrons stands behind some of the most fascinating physical properties of materials. Ferro- and antiferromagnetism, interaction-driven insulators and of course high-temperature superconductivity are manifestations of intricate correlations between many quantum particles.

However, their quantitative and a priori accurate understanding has remained one of the grand challenges of modern science. It stands in the way of a dramatic breakthrough in fundamental science and technology. In this talk, I will discuss why this ‘many electron problem’ is so hard and whether we have a chance of solving it in the foreseeable future.



Monday 30 November 2015

Carla Molteni, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Let it Snow! The Physics of Snow Crystals

Snow crystals are renowned for their complex fractal geometries branching out from the edges of a hexagonal crystallite core. Different morphologies develop depending on conditions such as temperature and pressure. There are still many aspects related to how water molecules self-assemble to create snow crystals that are far from being fully understood. In this talk I will present the physical principles behind the growth of snow crystals and show how state-of-the-art computer simulation methods can help solve some of the puzzles behind their fascinating structures.


Monday 23 November 2015

Alexis Webb, The Francis Crick Institute

Circadian rhythms - It’s all in the timing!

How genetic oscillators coordinate our daily lives

The spinning of the Earth on its axis as it orbits the Sun creates continuous, daily periods of light and darkness. To ensure survival and minimize predation, nearly every organism on the planet must coordinate its function within this rhythmic environment. Therefore, almost all processes in an organism occur on a 24-hour cycle: sleep and activity, body temperature, metabolism, and hormone  release. These processes must be regulated by a daily clock to occur at the right times relative to the environment.

This circadian clock is comprised of genetic oscillators, each built using a negative feedback loop of transcription and translation that occurs daily with a near 24-hour period. I will introduce the anatomical and molecular properties of the circadian oscillator and its function. I will describe my research to understand the qualities of individual oscillators, and how those characteristics might be important for robust output behaviour, like synchronization to each other and the environment. Finally, I will discuss the impact of modern society on our circadian clocks and how we might improve dysfunction caused by shift-work and other types of “social jet-lag” in the future.


Monday 16 November 2015

Sarah Bohndiek, Department of Physics and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, UK.

Disruptive technologies for in vivo imaging: advancing understanding of cancer metabolism

Profound discoveries in physics lie at the heart of medical imaging; techniques in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear medicine have revolutionised diagnostic medicine in the last 40 years. But gaps in our knowledge and capabilities for medical imaging still remain. We aim to fill these gaps through development and application of new imaging techniques that exploit the high contrast available in tissue using visible and near infrared light. This requires innovation in both modelling, to understand the interactions between light and tissue and instrumentation, to improve sensitivity and penetration depth of optical imaging. In this talk, I will focus on two emerging approaches in medical imaging: optoacoustic and hyperspectral imaging, detailing both their technological development as well as giving examples of their biomedical application in living subjects.


Monday 9 November 2015

Peter Main, Institute of Physics and Department of Physics, King’s College London

Opening Doors to Physics: Gender and Social Status

Physics is one of the least diverse of all subjects in universities. It is 80% male and most of the students come from the higher social classes. University physics departments are often criticised for failing to broaden their entry but, in fact, 98% of students who achieve physics and maths A-level, the entry requirement for physics programmes, attend university anyway, the vast majority to pursue courses that build upon their physics in some way. Consequently, efforts to increase the diversity of entry have to begin at a much lower age. The lecture will explore the reasons why girls and students from families with low socio-economic status do not study physics beyond the compulsory phase and why most of the efforts made to date to change that situation have failed. Most of those efforts start from the premise that, if only such students are exposed to more and more science, they will see the error of their ways and choose science subjects. The emphasis here will be to look instead at where the barriers are - they are different for the two cases - and to suggest some novel ways of overcoming them. Although the issues of gender stereotyping and social disadvantage are approached from a physics perspective, the lecture should be of interest to anyone interested in widening participation, educational opportunity and/or gender issues.


Monday 19 October 2015

John Ellis, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Why is the Universe so big and old?

Cosmological inflation is a proposal that for a while, very early in its history, the Universe expanded (almost) exponentially fast. This could explain the great homogeneity and isotropy of the Universe on very large scales, and why its geometry is (almost) flat. The structures seen in the Universe today, such as galaxies and clusters, are thought to have started as quantum effects during inflation. Measurements of the cosmic microwave background are probing models of inflation, and may show us how to connect them with particle physics and string theory.


Monday 12 October 2015     

Eleanor Knox, Department of Philosophy, King’s College London

Philosophical Challenges of Quantum Gravity

Various candidate theories of quantum gravity highlight conceptual puzzles in our existing physics, as well as posing new problems of their own. This talk will focus on the nature of spacetime in theories of quantum gravity. On the one hand, several approaches to quantum gravity explicitly claim to be motivated by philosophical considerations arising from classical spacetime theories. On the other, theories of quantum gravity throw up problems of their own, most notably by proposing emergent spacetimes. I will suggest some ways in which clear philosophical thinking might be of use to the quantum gravity project.


Monday 5 October 2015

Patrick Mesquida, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Miniaturisation and microfabrication: The cornerstones of our technological World.

In the 1960s, the Hollywood blockbuster "Fantastic Voyage", about a miniaturised submarine travelling through the blood vessels of a patient, was a great box-office and Academy Awards success. Whether such technology will ever exist remains to be seen. However, all sorts of day-to-day devices, ranging from cheap tablet computers, over mobile phones, to the more sophisticated computer systems that control our cars nowadays would not be possible without the massive miniaturisation of electronics that happened over the last 50 years.

But miniaturisation is more than just producing very small electronic circuits. The drive to make things smaller has reached chemical and biotechnology labs. Think of so-called lab-on-a-chip devices, where many chemical reactions are going on at high speed and high throughput. Another example are massively miniaturised biosensors to screen for disease markers. They could make rapid diagnosis or online-production control much faster and cheaper.

Microfabrication is a fascinating field for physicists with a focus on applications to work in. In this lecture, I will give an overview, first of the state-of-the-art in microfabrication, especially for electronic devices, then I will move on to the more unconventional technologies that are currently under development, with a specific emphasis on microfluidics. However, I will not only just list technologies but also step back and explore a bit more the very fundamental, physical conditions that govern the microscopic world and see if we can draw some conclusions about what's actually possible and what can be safely left to the world of Science Fiction.


Monday 16 March 2015

George Booth, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Why is quantum mechanics so difficult?!

It has been said that if you say 'why?' more than once or twice about a feature of the physical world, you have to come face-to-face with quantum theory.Unfortunately, only rarely does this end well: There are only a few systems for which we can solve quantum mechanical problems exactly, and simulation of more complicated systems rapidly spirals into the impossible. While engineers can use computer-aided design to build planes with huge reliability, in physics, we still struggle to describe more than a few interacting particles in a quantum mechanical way. Why is this the case, and how is the research in King's hoping to redress this imbalance? 


Monday 9 March 2015

Philippa Browning, Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester

Solar flares - the most energetic explosions in the solar system

Solar flares are a rapid release of stored magnetic energy in the outer atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, resulting in emission across the electromagnetic spectrum. These events - the most energetic "explosions" in the solar system - are a manifestation of the fundamental physical process of magnetic reconnection, which is also important in many other astrophysical and laboratory plasmas. Flares have significant practical consequences as they can affect the Earth and our space environment, with a major space weather event triggered by a large flare now regarded as a serious national risk.I will outline our current understanding of how energy is stored and released in solar flares, based on observations from space and theoretical modelling. There are many unanswered questions, such as explaining the origin of the large numbers of high-energy electrons and ions emitted in flares. Recently developed theoretical models of magnetic reconnection in unstable twisted magnetic fields or "flux ropes" shed new light on flare energy release and the acceleration of particles. Furthermore, it is likely that the high temperature of the solar corona itself - over 1 million degrees Kelvin - is a consequence of many small flare-like events. Hence, a better understanding of flares is providing new insights into the long-standing coronal heating problem. Finally, some implications for space weather will be presented.


Monday 2 March 2015

Carol Trager-Cowan, Department of Physics, University of Strathclyde

Nitrides – The Rainbow Material

While you can now buy LED based white lights in the supermarket, these are a fairly new 21st century lighting source.I will tell the story of how the blue and hence the white LED was invented and how a young Japanese researcher, Shuji Nakamura, working for a small company, Nichia, did what the electronic giants could not do: produce an efficient blue LED. A green LED soon followed, now found in LED traffic lights; and a blue laser, now the basis of the blu-ray player. The blue LED together with a yellow phosphor is the basis of today’s white LEDs; there is presently intense competitive research being undertaken world-wide to make these LEDs brighter, better and cheaper so that we may finally have an efficient, attractive and effective alternative to the tungsten filament light bulb.Their future use for lighting in homes and offices will significantly reduce our energy consumption. Using LEDs for lighting will reduce the world’s electricity bill for lighting by around 50%, and reduce CO2 emission by the order of 2000 million tonnes worldwide. Their potential impact was recognised in 2014 by the award of The Nobel Prize in Physics, it was awarded jointly to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”.


Monday 23 February 2015

Alex Connor, Senior policy manager, Physics Policy Centre, The Institute of Physics

How to change laws with physics

Physics knowledge and expertise are at the heart of the great challenges of our age - everything from climate change mitigation to supporting an aging population to ensuring international security - and physicists are involved at almost every level. So why does it sometimes seem as though the policies governments choose have so little basis in science?To understand the roles that science and scientists play in influencing and developing policies we must first understand the wider landscape of government and the evolving role of scientific advice. The often conflicting pressures of politics and the limitations of evidence can make the equations complex, but fortunately we have a wealth of past successes and failures on which to base our approach.Finally, the 2015 UK general election and spending round will soon be upon us; in times of budget cuts, what more can the physics community do to make the case for investing in science?


Monday 9 February 2015

Jonathan Leach, Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences, Heriot-Watt University

Imaging at the speed of light

How do you take images so fast that you can see light travelling through air? And how do you use the latest technology to look around corners and see objects hidden from view? These are the questions that we are looking to answer at Heriot-Watt University. Our research is focused on developing new strategies for imaging which allow us to see the world in a new perspective. I will talk about our recent research using a very specialised camera with some very important features. The first is its sensitivity to single photons – each pixel is around ten times more sensitive than a human eye; the second is its speed – each pixel can be activated for just 67 picoseconds, that’s more than a billion times faster than you or I can blink. The camera allows us to film at the speed of light – we can video pulses of light as they travel through air. One application of this technology is looking around corners to see objects hidden from view.


Monday 2 February 2015

Alvaro Blanco Montes, Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid, ICMM-CSIC

Photonic Materials or how to tame light

2015 has been declared by the United Nations as The International Year of Light and Light Related Technologies, as if welcoming the Photon Century. Electrons will no longer be the universal elements in future technologies. Optical communications Life Sciences and Health Care, Lighting and Displays, Security, etc will benefit from the unique photon properties. These emerging technologies underline the enormous potential of this field: Novel materials and novel phenomena will bring novel devices to light from which society will benefit in the incoming 21st century.Nanophotonics, the photonics technology at the nanoscale, has been evolving in the last decades in parallel with nanoelectronics. Current microelectronics, as we know nowadays, will in the near future see its potential limited by restrictions rooting in parameters such us size, dissipation, dimensionality, and so on. Several contingency plans are being invoked to face those difficulties (spintronics, molecular electronics, quantum computing, etc) and among them, nanophotonics, is trying to change the information carriers from electron to photons, with all the consequences it carries in, for example, materials issues. The key to the development of electronics in the second half the 20th century was the invention of devices based on silicon (electron semiconductors) and, among them, the transistor; in a similar manner, the new photonics technologies will require analogous semiconducting materials for photons with which to build the future photonic circuitry. In this heading, photonic crystals (PCs), materials capable of molding the flow of light, can be called to pave the way to 21st century technology. With them we can control Light Emission, Light Propagation and Light Absorption and by doing this, we try to tame light.


Monday 26 January 2015

Neal Graneau, Hydrodynamics Division, Applied Physics, Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston

What would Maxwell have concluded if only he had a computer ?

The history of physics had a dramatic half century between 1855 and 1905 and much of it centred on the birth, promotion and defence of the fledgling field theory of James Clerk Maxwell and its corresponding electromagnetic force laws that came to be known as the Lorentz force. The prediction and measurement of forces due to electric currents has always had an ambiguous nature due to the many historical conceptions of a “current element”, difficulties of defining velocity and the issue of divergence from Newton’s third law. There were several pre-Maxwellian, Newtonian force laws devised mainly by French and German scientists including Ampere and Weber and their predictions and underlying philosophy were subtly different from the laws we use today. Only in the last 50 years have we actually gained the experimental abilities to attempt to detect these divergent predictions. Maxwell appears to have resigned from King’s College in 1865 because he felt that at that time, there were no acceptable texts with which to teach the very important subject of electricity and magnetism and that his efforts would be best expended fully dedicated to the task of collating all known phenomena and reasonable theories in this area. His treatise was not only an exposition of his own ideas, but also an encyclopaedic account of a wide range of experiments and the contrasting and competing alternative concepts that made up the body of knowledge of electricity and magnetism in 1873. In his treatise, Maxwell recognized that some of the debates could simply not be resolved until new calculation techniques, namely what we now call “finite element analysis” had been developed to fully explore the ramifications of the French-German pre Maxwellian theories and left it open which laws would ultimately prove to be most accurate. The English followers of Maxwell, namely Heaviside, Thompson, Fitzgerald, Lodge, Larmor and others however, were less willing to wait for the development of the computer and pressed for electromagnetic theory to be codified and taught in the Maxwellian form we know it today in which fields and currents are continuous and at least some problems could be solved in the pre-computer era. All contrasting, but equally valid theories were consequently and pro-actively written out of the textbooks. Recent application of finite element analysis to the pre-Maxwellian electrodynamics has now revealed that these laws describe transverse forces exactly as prescribed by the Lorentz law, but in addition lead to extra force components along the direction of current that leads to a more accurate description of many electromagnetic experiments including exploding wires and railguns. This talk will explore the history of the subject and conjecture how Maxwell may have decided on the most appropriate form of the electromagnetic force law if only he had a computer and possibly a 10 kiloamp power supply !


Monday 19 January 2015

Jon Butterworth, Physics and Astronomy Department, University College London

The LHC and the Higgs Boson: Smashing Physics

The past few years have been an amazing time in particle physics. As the CERN Large Hadron Collider prepares to return for "Run 2" at even higher energy, I will talk about some of the things we learned from Run 1. This will include the discovery of the Higgs boson, how it was done, what it means, and also something about what it felt like to do science under the glare of public attention.

The past few years have been an amazing time in particle physics. As the CERN Large Hadron Collider prepares to return for "Run 2" at even higher energy, I will talk about some of the things we learned from Run 1. This will include the discovery of the Higgs boson, how it was done, what it means, and also something about what it felt like to do science under the glare of public attention.



Monday 1 December 2014

William Proud, Director: Institute of Shock Physics, Imperial College London

Shock and Blast Waves: Natural, Accidental and Scientific

The Subject: Shock waves can be thought of as very high-pressure pulses which move through material causing rapid acceleration, temperature rise and velocity changes. They are often thought of as destructive as a result. This talk will provide an overview of this area including natural shock waves, accidents, technical applications and fundamental research which can be conducted using this phenomena e.g. turning graphite into diamond, investigating the process during high-velocity impact and protection of people and vehicles from blast waves. Examples will be illustrated by high-speed photography.

The speaker: WG Proud is the director of the Institute of Shock Physics, Imperial College London and chair of the Institute of Physics Shock Waves and Extreme Conditions Group. He has been investigating shock waves since 1994 and has written numerous articles on the subject.


Monday 24 November 2014

Daniel Pooley, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Didcot

Neutron Science; an overview of technique and instrumentation with emphasis on the new field of energy-resolved neutron imaging.

The ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire is a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences. Neutron scattering is a powerful technique giving unique insight into complex structures. I will present an overview of neutron scattering techniques and the state-of-the art instrumentation at the ISIS facility. I will emphasise how the current shortfall in instrumentation for the novel technique of energy resolved neutron imaging is being addressed. The demand for energy resolved neutron imaging has generated a huge advance in detector instrumentation and technique development, particularly with the use of borated MCP’s and fast, gated, CCD technology. I will also present the development of an exciting new detector type, the GP2 detector, currently in the prototype phase of R&D. The GP2 detector utilises a fast PImMs CMOS sensor, so named as it was developed for Particle Imaging Mass Spectrometry, to record event-mode data from a pulsed neutron source. The CMOS sensor has been made neutron sensitive by using gadolinium as a conversion material; directly detecting electrons from gadolinium.


Monday 17 November 2014

Tony Mann, Director, Greenwich Maths Centre, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Greenwich

Puzzles, Paradoxes and Physics

We often react with amusement to paradoxes and puzzles with counter-intuitive solutions. But puzzles and paradoxes - when Nature apparently doesn't behave in the way that our theories tell us she should - present an opportunity for us to improve our understanding. Examples such as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) Paradox have helped us establish the validity of quantum theory, while Olbers' Paradox - the apparently naive question as to why the sky is dark at night - provides very convincing evidence of the Big Bang. And puzzles, illusions and magic tricks show us how easy it is for unexamined assumptions to lead us to the wrong conclusion.

This talk will demonstrate a wide range of puzzles, illusions and paradoxes to show how they can help us develop our understanding of various branches of physics and of the way we perceive the world. Why are drops of water suspended in mid-air? How can we explain the patterns of the pendulum wave? When I drop a weight, where will it hit the floor? How do I make a playing card move invisibly from one pile to another? Members of the audience will have to keep their wits about them! And appropriately for a talk to the Maxwell Society, Maxwell's Demon will feature.


Monday 10 November 2014

Todd Huffmann, Department of Physics, University of Oxford

Why Must One Apply the Brakes to Stop?

On July 4 2012 a particle was discovered that we now believe is the Higgs boson. This is the quantum field which pervades all of space and gives inertial mass to all of the sub-atomic particles in the Universe, presumably both seen and unseen.

When the discovery was announced millions were watching and I dare say most of them were not Particle Physicists. The presentation given, however, was clearly for a Particle Physics audience. This talk is about how the Higgs boson was found boiled down to its essential bits. One still needs some basic maths, but the essence of how experimental particle physics makes a discovery is not as arcane as one might at first believe. So using this most recent discovery as the primary backdrop, I hope to impart a flavour of the process of search and discovery at a particle physics experiment and along the way help to illuminate the answer to the question as to why brakes are necessary to come to a stop.


Monday 3rd November 2014

Carolyn Crawford, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge

Dark Energy and the ever-expanding Universe

Get up to date with the new cosmology - what are dark matter and dark energy? Why do astronomers think they account for the 'missing' 96% of our Universe, and what does this mean for the future?


Monday 20 October 2014

Emmanuel Fort, Institut Langevin, ESPCI ParisTech

Wave-particle duality with the naked eye

Some three centuries ago, Newton suggested that corpuscles of light generate waves in an aethereal medium like a skipping stone generates waves in water, their motion then being affected by these waves. Today, light corpuscles are known as photons, and the notion of aether has been abandoned. Nevertheless, certain features of Newton's metaphor live on in some theories in which particle are guided by their own wave. The weakness of these theories is that their physical nature remains unclear because there is no macroscopic analogue to draw upon.

We have recently discovered a macroscopic object composed of a material particle dynamically coupled to a wave packet. The particle is a droplet bouncing on the surface of a vertically vibrated liquid bath, its pilot-wave is made of the superposition of the surface waves it excites. Above an excitation threshold, this symbiotic object, designated as a “walker” becomes self-propelled.

Such a walker exhibits several features previously thought to be specific to the microscopic realm. The unexpected appearance of both uncertainty and quantization behaviours at the macroscopic scale originates in the essence of this “classical” duality. I will present experiments that are analogous to the historical quantum experiments: diffraction and Young’s double slit experiment in dim light, orbital quantization, tunnelling, etc.

The dynamics of the droplet depends on previously visited spots along its trajectory through the surface waves emitted during each bounce. This path memory dynamics gives a walker an intrinsic spatio-temporal non-locality. I will discuss the characteristics of these objects that encode a wave memory. In particular, I will show the presence of temporal mirrors to generate backward propagating waves.

This work was carried out with a number of colleagues, chief among whom Yves Couder, Antonin Eddi, Julien Moukhtar, Mathias Fink, Suzie Protière, Julien Moukhtar, Stéphane Perrard, Matthieu Labousse, Marc Miskin & Vincent Bacot.


Monday 13 October 2014

Marina Kuimova, EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow, Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London

Illuminating biological cells: from cell viscosity to cancer treatment

Many biological processes are based on chemical reactions. Viscosity determines how fast molecules can diffuse, and react. Therefore in cells viscosity can affect signalling, transport and drug delivery, and abnormal viscosity has been linked to disease and malfunction. In spite of its importance, measuring viscosity on a scale of a single cell is a challenge. I will describe a new approach used in my lab which allows two distinct advantages over the current state of the art: (i) imaging viscosity with high resolution, for example in single live cells and (ii) measuring how viscosity changes in real time, over the course of seconds or hours. I will also explain how our viscosity measurements can be put to diagnostic use in medical treatment called photodynamic therapy of cancer.


Monday 6 October 2014

Mark Green, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Quantum dots - from Lab to Tescos

The preparation and use of quantum dots is now well established, and are used in applications such as biological disease markers, to the latest Kindle Fire, and even Apple are rumoured to be investing in the UK quantum dot market. Here, we will describe exactly what quantum dots are, how they’re made, what they’re used for and some research that’s happening in KCL physics - with the help of tescos.


Monday 29 September 2014

Giovanna Tinetti, Professor of Astrophysics, Royal Society URF, University College London, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy

The exoplanet revolution

Our knowledge of planets other than the eight “classical” Solar System bodies is in its infancy.

We are discovering thousands of planets orbiting stars other than our own, and yet we know little or nothing about their chemistry, formation and evolution. Planetary science therefore stands at the threshold of a revolution in our knowledge and understanding of our place in the Universe: just how special are the Earth and our Solar System? It is only by undertaking a comprehensive chemical survey of the exoplanet population that we can hope to answer these critical questions.

Little more than 10 years ago, the detection of a signal from an exoplanet atmosphere was still in the realm of science fiction. Pioneering results were then obtained through transit spectroscopy with Hubble, Spitzer and ground-based facilities, making it possible the detection of ionic, atomic and molecular species and of the planet’s thermal structure.

With the arrival of improved or dedicated instruments in the coming decade, planetary science will expand beyond the narrow boundaries of our Solar System to encompass our whole Galaxy.


Monday 17 February 2014,

Andrew Beeby, Department of Chemistry, University of Durham

A Lifetime in Luminescence

Luminescent materials are widely employed in today’s technological world and can be found in the most unexpected places - for example pet budgerigars fluoresce nicely!  Luminescence helps to protect our precious goods and money, it is used are used as a tracer or probes in medical diagnostics and the next generation of TV screens will contain light emitting materials.  Fundamental to harnessing the brilliant world of luminescence is a thorough understanding of molecular excited states and how these are influenced by molecular structure.  The presentation will provide a glowing report, showing a range of applications of luminescence and optical spectroscopy. It will end with an example of an unlikely but rewarding interdisciplinary project in which we have used spectroscopy to look at the materials used to illuminate 7-12th century manuscripts.


Monday 10 February 2014,

Dylan Owen, Department of Physics and Randall Division for Cell and Molecular Biophysics, King’s College London

The structure and function of the cell membrane

The cell membrane is a selectively-permeable membrane which separates the cell interior from the external environment. It is composed of a phospholipid bilayer with a wide variety of embedded and attached proteins forming a lipid-protein composite. This talk will examine the structure, physics and chemistry of the cell membrane and how these relate to its cellular function including compartmentalisation, adhesion and intercellular signalling and communication. Examples that will be discussed include its roles in immune response and electrical conductivity in nerve cells and we will look at techniques used to study the membrane including fluorescence microscopy, scattering experiments, atomic force microscopy and biochemistry.


Monday 3 February 2014,

Chris Rhodes

What happens when the oil runs out?

Chris Rhodes will give an overall view of the peak oil problem and the lack of any technological fix to the consequent liquid fuels crisis. After discussing resource supply problems in general, he will move onto the media hype over fracking etc. compared to true levels of gas and oil that might be exhumed, and then to the shortages of metals such as rare elements for electric cars and wind turbines. He will conclude that, as a result, technology isn’t going to be our salvation and so we need to adapt our behaviour, leading to thinking locally and Transition Towns as the final optimistic solution."

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher who became involved with environmental issues while working in Russia during the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34.

He has published more than 200 peer reviewed scientific articles and 3 books. He is also a published novelist, journalist and poet. His novel, “University Shambles” was nominated for Brit Writers’ Awards 2011: Published Writer of the Year.

Chris has given numerous radio and televised interviews concerning environmental issues, both in Europe and in the United States - including on BBC Radio 4's Material World. Latest invitations as a speaker include a series of international lectures regarding the impending depletion of world oil and the need to develop oil-independent, sustainable societies.


Monday 20 January 2014,

Paul West & Tristram Elmhirst

Physics and Policing:  A thirty year journey

Most people would consider becoming a police officer an unusual choice of career for a physics graduate.  That was even more so in the late 1970s when Paul West swapped his student lifestyle at Pembroke College, Oxford for shift work as a police constable on the streets of Darlington.  Thirty two years later Paul retired from policing after completing the last eight years of his service as the Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, one of the most highly regarded forces in England and Wales.

In this lecture, Paul will reflect upon his transition from physics to policing, highlight some of the more significant advances in scientific support for crime scene investigation of the last thirty years, and assess their impact.  Supported by Tristram Elmhirst, the former Head of Scientific Support for West Mercia Police, he will also describe in detail how the application of physics was key to the successful outcome of a particularly challenging murder investigation from 2009, Operation Tilt.


Monday 13 January 2014,

Chris Holland, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Sheffield

Silk: Understanding the secret of a spider's success

If we wish to mimic or copy silk we must first understand it. Understanding means not only knowing the relevant proteins but also knowing their

function and, importantly, their structure - property relationships. And here is a gap in our present knowledge. Silk proteins have been patented by many research groups and companies and been expressed in bacteria, plants and animals. However it is processing that defines a silk, for unlike all other biological materials they are spun, not grown.

Silks are biological polymers that have evolved to be processed by controlled protein denaturation, a process with many similarities to amyloidogenesis.

But no one, to our knowledge, has succeeded in successfully configuring, i.e., spinning those proteins into anything resembling the natural fibre neither in its microstructure (which is rather complex) nor in its mechanical properties (which are outstanding). I will propose that silks are a unique source of inspiration for the current challenges facing the synthetic polymer industry, provided we understand how to process them correctly. My talk will provide an overview of Natures 400 million years of R&D into silk and our recent studies into the importance of processing in this fascinating material alongside some potential future applications of high tech silk based products. 



Monday 2 December 2013,

Jerry Stone

Colonies in Space

In mid-1969 Professor Gerard K O'Neill put a question to a study group at Princeton University; "Is a planetary surface the right place for an expanding technological civilisation?"

The unexpected result from their studies was that the answer was "No". A much better place, it seemed, would be in vast habitats constructed in high orbit, at a special location known as the Lagrange points L4 and L5.  Further studies showed the feasibility of constructing various forms of habitats that could ultimately house millions of people.

Apart from providing a safety net in the event of catastrophe striking the Earth - be it man-made (which appeared a possibility at the time) or through other means - it was shown that building the colonies could bring enormous benefits to those remaining on Earth. In fact O'Neill showed that most of the major problems facing the Earth - which are still with us today - could be addressed by these vast construction projects in space. A major benefit could be the construction of Solar Power Satellites to provide energy to the Earth.

In light of the advances made over the last 40 years, and the development of reusable launchers such as the UK's "Skylon", Jerry Stone is leading a project with the British Interplanetary Society to re-examine and update the original studies.


Monday 25 November 2013,

David Porter, Zoology Department, Oxford University,

Silk: spiders, worms, and advanced materials

Silk fibres have evolved over millions of years to have excellent mechanical properties of strength and toughness, but is all the current interest in these 'super materials' justified? After looking at the question of whether silk fibre properties can be scaled up to bulk materials, I outline some of our work on lessons to be learned from silk as a model protein material that can teach us many new lessons in physics as diverse and design of new structural materials.


Monday  18 November 2013,

David Phillips CBE, Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London and President of the Royal Society of Chemistry 2010 to 2012

Prosperity Through Science

We live in a molecular world, and to understand it, an appreciation of chemistry and other molecular sciences is required. Here we outline the way in which the prosperity and health of the population, and sustainability of modern living requires input from molecular scientists, principally but not exclusively, chemists. In this presentation, some recent developments in molecular sciences relating to healthcare, ‘green chemistry’, energy , molecular machines and nanotechnology and others will be described before the lecturer turns to some developments in his own field of photochemistry, particularly that of photodynamic therapy [PDT] of cancer using a dye which absorbs red light, switching on some chemistry which destroys tumours, focusing in particular on targeted PDT using both monoclonal antibody fragments, and two-photon excitation with intense pulsed lasers. In energy, we will look at solar energy and storage problems, and end with an appreciation of the ‘endangered elements’.


Monday 11 November 2013,

Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences and Director of the Cosmochemistry Research Group, Department of Physical Sciences, Open University    

Astronomy by Microscope

Traditionally, astronomers study stars and planets by telescope. But we can also learn about them by using a microscope – through studying meteorites. From meteorites, we can learn about the processes and materials that shaped the Solar System and our planet. Tiny grains within meteorites have come from other stars, giving information about the stellar neighbourhood in which the Sun was born. Meteorites can arrive on Earth in a spectacular fashion, as shown by the recent fall in Chelyabinsk. The arrival on Earth of Chelyabinsk has given us a fresh sample of an asteroid which we can study. Our first results show that it is probably from an S class asteroid, and that it has been melted on its parent body, recording an important period of Solar System history. Most meteorites are not as big as Chelyabinsk, and arrive as tiny grains of dust, too small to see by eye, which is why we need a microscope to study them.


Monday 21 October 2013,

 Brad Amos FRS, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge

New Optical Microscopes for the 21st Century

For the last thirty years, the optical microscope has shown single molecules and ions with amazing chemical specificity down to the level of single antigenic epitopes.  Also, it has proved possible to resolve finer detail than the classical limits, though the 100-fold improvement in resolution needed for biology has not yet been attained. In the 1980s the computer made it possible to explore biological fine structure in three dimensions but even the best microscope objective lenses turned out to be poor for observing large specimens in 3D.  We have had to go back to basic optics, discarding all thought of the human eye and eyepiece, to achieve 'mesoscopy', in which subcellular resolution is achieved throughout a capture volume as large as 70 cubic millimetres. A confocal instrument now exists in the 'Mesolab' of Prof Gail McConnell  (University of Strathclyde) in which it is possible to follow events inside every one of the 2.5 million cells in a 10-day mouse embryo, a stage at which brain, vascular and excretory organs already exist. It is as if a myopic histologist has suddenly become able to see a whole human body.


Monday 14 October 2013,

 Cedric Weber, Department of Physics, King’s College London

An introduction to the Mysterious High-Temperature Superconductors

Superconductivity is quantum phenomena where the resistivity of the compound drops to zero, and the material conducts electric current with no dissipation. This mysterious phenomenon can only occur at low temperatures below the so-called transition temperature. In metallic superconductors, this is close to the absolute zero point, limiting its everyday applications, but a breakthrough was obtained in 1989 when it was found that certain ceramic materials can be superconductive at temperatures up to 138 Kelvin. For the last five decades, researchers have been puzzled by the phenomenology of high-temperature superconductors. While a limited understanding has been obtained, applications of superconductors to several branches of the industry has emerged, such as in medical imaging or magnetic levitation.


Monday 7 October 2013,

Eugene Lim, Department of Physics, King’s College London

Love and Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Mechanics is one of the key pillars of modern physics. One of its key defining features is the notion of quantum entanglement between more than one system -- a property so counter-intuitive that Einstein went to his grave unable to reconcile himself with it. Nevertheless, although the idea is more than a hundred years old, and tested experimentally to great precision, is still not well understood conceptually. But you ask "What has it got to do with love?" Well, come to the lecture, and find out!


25 February 2013

Peter McBurney, King’s College London

Designing Artificial Languages

By far the vast majority of communications on the Internet are messages between machines, not between human beings. As a consequence, computer scientists have embarked on the design of artificial languages and communications protocols for machine-to-machine communications, an area of research which draws on information theory, linguistics, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of argumentation, formal logic, artificial intelligence, distributed systems, and the theory of programming languages. Some existing theories – such as Shannon’s theory of communications, which has been very influential in electronic engineering and telecommunications – are inadequate to the task. I will present a brief introduction to this research area, and talk about some of the research challenges in developing a formal theory of communications appropriate for intelligent machines.


18 February  2013

Bill Barnes, University of Exeter

Key EleMents of Plasmonics

Just as a bell can be struck to produce a certain ringing note, so light impinging on a metallic nanoparticle can make the electrons in the metal ring. This ringing mode, known as a plasmon mode, occurs at optical frequencies and is at the heart of plasmonics. Just as a ringing bell has a certain note, the ringing electrons interact strongly with light of a certain colour, the specific colour depending on the size, shape and the optical environment around the particle. Crucially, the motion of the electrons binds the light tightly to the surface of the particle, confining and enhancing the light in nanoscale regions well beyond the diffraction limit, where it may interact very strongly with molecules, quantum dots, etc.. Plasmonics is being pursued in the context of storage, light harvesting in photovoltaics, plasmonic metamaterials and in the ultrasensitive discrimination between molecules of different handedness. In this talk I will focus on the lowest level of physics we can get away with to understand some of the phenomena associated with plasmonics.


4 February  2013

Phil Manning, University of Manchester

Bright Lights and Dinosaurs

The fossil remains of dinosaurs and other extinct animals have long fascinated our species. The mineralised bones have often been viewed as mere sterile echoes of the organism from which they came. However, researchers at the University of Manchester are now challenging the accepted paradigm that any trace of the original organismal chemistry had long since perished. Using some of the brightest light in the universe, at both the Stanford (USA) and Diamond (UK) Synchrotron Light sources, the Manchester team have teased hitherto unseen chemical ghosts from the very bones and soft tissues of extinct animals. The team have shed new light on the biochemistry and preservation of some of the rarest fossils in the world, including Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis, 150 and 125 million years old respectively. The team has recently turned its attention to the stunningly preserved skin of a hadrosaur dinosaur from the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. This rare dinosaur ‘mummy’ might hold the first clues as to the true colour of dinosaurs, but the twist in this dinosaur tale might ultimately lead us into the world of nuclear waste!


28 January 2013

Michael Tarbutt, Imperial College,

How Round is an Electron and Why Does it Matter?

How can you measure the shape of something so small that you can't even measure its size? This talk will be about an experiment that measures the shape of electrons. This shape is important in physics because it is connected to two basic symmetries of nature. The first is a symmetry between the forward and backward flow of time, and the second a symmetry between matter and antimatter. The talk will explore these connections, showing how extremely precise measurements made in a small laboratory experiment can answer some big physics questions.


21 January 2013

Chris Budd, University of Bath and the Royal Institution,

Maths and the Making of the Modern World

Almost all modern technology relies on maths but its contribution can sometimes be hidden away. In this talk Prof. Budd, currently the professor of mathematics at the Royal Institution, will expose some of the maths behind Google, the internet, mobile phones, credit cards, Facebook and sat nav devices.


14 January 2013

Carl Bender, Washington University in St. Louis

Paradoxes in Science and Mathematics

In thinking about science and mathematics we are sometimes led to a paradox; that is, a seemingly absurd or contradictory conclusion. Paradoxes are good because they force us to discover the defect in our reasoning, and when we resolve a paradoxical conclusion, we deepen our understanding of the natural world. In this talk we will examine many famous and fascinating paradoxes.



10 December 2012

Mike Walker, King's College London

Mobile Security - past, present and future

The early analogue mobile phone systems were plagued with security problems, in some cases to such an extent that at least one operator withdrew all phones from its network and replaced them with ones that at least resisted the most widely used attacks. For this reason, integrated security features were one of the main considerations for the introduction of the Pan-European digital systems known as GSM. These features were further enhanced with the third generation system (3G or UMTS) and again with the fourth generation (LTE) which has recently been launched in the UK and elsewhere. But criminals are not to be easily thwarted, and as the radio access network has been secured their attention has tuned to other parts of the network. With the advent of Smart Phones, the industry is again potentially facing threat levels that it hasn’t experienced since its early days. It is better placed today to ward them off? We will look at this question (but not answer it!) by exploring the history of mobile phone security.


3 December 2012

Ayush Goyal, University of Oxford

Science and Consciousness 

How is it that an electron can exist at two places at once? How is it that it can pass through walls? Is an electron a wave or a particle? Can the position and momentum of an electron be determined with certainty? Can the speed of an electron be measured like the speed of a photon? Quantum superposition, tunnelling, wave-particle duality, uncertainty principle, and the observer effect are some of the ideas in quantum physics that question the very nature of reality as they starkly contrast the laws of classical physics. The Vedic Upanishad Ishopanisad describes Consciousness with attributes similar to those of an electron - omnipresent, all-pervading, immeasurable. If we consider consciousness as a subtle wave-particle element finer and subtler than fermions such as the electron, then it can provide the foundations for potential theories explaining the mysterious phenomena of near death experiences, out-of body experiences, apparitions. The Vedic term for consciousness is Brahman, and the particle of consciousness is atman (the self). One of the primary teachings of Vedanta is "aham brahmasmi," or "I am the self, not the body occupied by the self." The atma can exist at two places at once as it is not restricted in time and space; pass through physical objects because it is subtle not physical (yogis, or mystic ascetics, who have mastered their practice, can transcend the mundane, and exhibit these qualities). Just as the electron is simultaneously present in a single state and present in all of its potential states at the same time, Brahman is simultaneously present in one place as the individual atma and everywhere at the same time. The atma is Brahman, yet it is also not Brahman because it is not the complete whole, rather it is a part of the whole. This paradox is known as "acintya bheda-abheda" or simultaneous oneness and difference. The paradoxes in the Vedantic tradition are reminiscent of Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment, in which the cat is simultaneously alive and dead according to the Copenhagen interpretation until the observer opens the box. Many ideas of Vedanta are reflected in the philosophy of the early founders of quantum physics. When measured, the electron will result in only one state, i.e., the observer has an effect on the measurement of the electron's state. Similarly, Brahman is present everywhere, but how it is observed is dependent on the observer. Consciousness is both all-pervading and localized at the same time. In quantum mechanics, the wave function collapse is the phenomenon in which a wave function — initially in a superposition of several different possible states — appears to reduce to a single one of those states after interaction with an observer. Similarly, Vedanta teaches us that the reality we observe is weaved by our own conscious self. We are the creators of our own reality.


26 November 2012

Mark van Schilfgaarde, King’s College London

The Physics of Solar Cells, and their Societal Implications

For about two decades, scientists have been drawing our attention to the consequences of climate change induced by our modern economy based as it is on fossil fuels.  This, together with an marked recent evolution in social awareness of the benefits a sustainable economy offers, have been the main drivers in the search for finding benign, renewable energy sources. Direct energy conversion of sunlight by exploiting the photovoltaic effect is widely thought to be the most promising vehicle for the transition to a sustainable energy supply. In this talk I will describe the basic thermodynamics of sunlight as an energy source, and how the photovoltaic effect can be realized in practical electronic devices.  While Si technology has dominated the PV field so far, a fair number of alternatives have emerged, each with their own unique challenges.  I will present a survey of some of them, and address some of the primary impediments to a transformation to an energy sector where PV plays a major role.


19 November 2012

Andrew Norton, OU

Exoplanets and How to Find Them

Twenty years ago, planets around other stars were the stuff of science fiction; yet today that fiction is a reality and we know of around 800 so called exoplanets, with thousands of further possible ones identified. In this talk I will tell a little of the history of this remarkable advance, and show just how exoplanets are discovered, using a range of models and demonstrations. Some highlights from recent discoveries will be discussed, including those from the SuperWASP project which staff at the Open University are involved with, and the prospects for future discoveries of habitable Earth-like planets will be outlined.


12 November 2012

James Hough, Herts

Do We Owe Everything to the Stars?

The origin of life on Earth remains one of the key questions for science, and the discovery of several hundred extrasolar planets has raised the possibility of discovering life elsewhere in the next few decades. We now know that all the elements, other than hydrogen, are produced in stars and that process, starting with the Big Bang, is fairly well understood. However, there is a long-standing puzzle associated with the origins of life on Earth that we do not understand. All the amino acids, the building blocks of our proteins, have a left-handed configuration. How this asymmetry, which appears to be an essential pre-requisite for life, originated has remained a mystery for ~150 years. Polarization measurements of star-forming regions has led to the idea that the asymmetry could have been introduced into prebiotic molecules during the formation of the solar system.


29 October 2012

Nicola Bonini, King’s College London

Picking up good (or bad) vibrations at the nanoscale

The influence of lattice vibrations is felt in almost every aspect of condensed matter physics (as well as of life). This seminar is a gentle introduction to the study of atomic motions at the nanoscale. First I will give a brief overview of some recent advances in atomistic modelling and experimental techniques to study lattice vibrations. Then I will use examples from nanomechanics and nanoelectronics to discuss some aspects of the fundamental physics of lattice vibrations, including the energy exchange between vibrational and electronic degrees of freedom, and dissipation processes. A detailed understanding of these phenomena is key to guide the discovery and the development of advanced materials and nanoscale devices for applications ranging from nanoelectronics to energy conversion technologies.


22 October 2012

Sergi Garcia-Manyes, King's College London

Tug of war: Force spectroscopy on Single Proteins and lipid bilayers

Why is that every time we stretch our arm we can recoil it back and repeat this process again and again without getting (too) tired? The reason is that the individual proteins that form the muscular tissue can unfold and refold entropically under the effect of a mechanical force in a reversible fashion. Similarly, mechanical force provides an alternative means to heat or electricity to activate chemical reactions. In this seminar, I will explain how we can now experimentally manipulate individual proteins using the newly developed single molecule force-clamp technique. The single protein data is providing a new view that will help guide the development of theories on the statistical dynamics of folding and ab-initio studies of a chemical reaction while placed under a stretching force; of common occurrence in nature.


15 October 2012

Suzie Sheehy, STFC (RAL)

Accelerated Dreams: How particle accelerators have changed our lives...and what they will look like in the future

Embark on a journey of discovery about a technology that has truly changed our lives, and changed the way we understand the world around us. Less than 100 years ago the particle accelerator was nothing more than a dream, yet today they have become an integral part of modern life, from medicine to mobile phone technology.Get a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a particle accelerator with the help of demonstrations and get a glimpse of what these cutting-edge machines can do for you, and where they are heading in the future. 


8 October 2012

Riccardo Sapienza, King's College London

Nano-optics of dusts and honeycombs

Why is a glass window clear and transparent while glass dust white and opaque? The answer lies in the nanoscale interaction of light and the glass fragments. Nanophotonics has discovered how light can be trapped and slowed down in a photonic cage. This is achieved by exploiting light interference in materials nanostructured down to the wavelength size, as either dusts or honeycombs, white paints or butterfly wings. In my talk I will discuss how tailoring the nanophotonics environment we can modify the fluorescence properties of an individual molecule, enhance its emission rate and direct its fluorescence, realizing a “super-emitter”.


1 October 2012

Cyril Isenberg, Kent

Detecting Earthquakes and Nuclear Explosions Needs VHS, 35mm and OHP

The science of seismology is only a hundred years old. In this time the study of seismic waves produced by earthquakes has enabled the solid-liquid-solid structure of the Earth to be established. The Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1970s and the Viking mission to Mars set up seismometers on the surface of these planets to determine their internal structure using the same techniques developed on Earth. Considerable research has also been undertaken to distinguish small nuclear underground explosions from earthquakes in order to be able to distinguish between them. Some attempts have been made by countries to mask underground nuclear explosions so that they mimic earthquakes. The lecturer will demonstrate and explain seismic wave propagation.


27 February 2012

Frank Close, University of Oxford

The Infinity Puzzle

The LHC at CERN in Geneva is the largest physics experiment in history, which explores how matter and structure emerged out of the Big Bang. Frank CLose's latest book, The Infinity Puzzle, looks at the scientists whose ideas, half a century ago, have inspired this quest. Who is Peter Higgs? Why does he have a Boson named after him? Have Nobel Prizes been fairly awarded along the way and is there another potential controversy about to happen? The talk is suitable for undergraduates as well as faculty.


20 February 2012

Mike Walker, King’s College London

Money for Old Herz

In 2000 the UK Government radically changed the way in which it was to provide radio frequency spectrum to the telecommunications industry. From the 6th March to the 27h April of that year it auctioned spectrum for third generation mobile, and with those auctions extracted £22.5 billion from the UK telecoms industry. In terms of takings, this was the biggest auction in history, and it set the scene for what would become a global trend. In this lecture I will tell the story of what it was like to take part in the auction as a bidder - the strategic game, the tactical game and the "pain" of winning.


13 February 2012

Bobby Acharya, King’s College London

Unraveling the Mysteries of Matter with the CERN Large Hadron Collider

What is mass? Why is most of the mass in the Universe “dark”? After explaining how all of ‘ordinary’ matter is composed of a just a few elementary particles, I will explain what the Large Hadron Collider is and how it will shed important light on these two key mysteries of matter.


6 February 2012

Nigel Richard, Garvie Bagpipes

Bagpipes and Acoustics: How do they Sound like that?

It's a rich and wild sound but why - what are the acoustical properties of bagpipes that make them sound that way? A talk which explains some of this, with particles dancing in tubes and other demonstrations, and a couple of tunes on the pipes as well.


30 January 2012

Tony Campbell, University of Cardiff

Life that Sparkles

Bioluminescence has invaded all the ecosystems on our planet, and is the major communication in the deep sea. In this talk I will show how ‘life that sparkles’ provides a wonderful example of how curiosity about an amazing phenomenon brings together the biology, chemistry and physics of light, leading to major discoveries and inventions in biology and medicine, applications in clinical medicine used in several hundred million tests per year, and creating three billion dollar markets. I will also reveal the solution to what puzzled Darwin about bioluminescence, and why Fred Hoyle was wrong about Darwin's BIG idea.


23 January 2012

Carl Bender, Washington University in St. Louis and King’s College London

Good Science, Bad Science, Anti Science

This is an age of computers, cell phones, GPS systems, and lasers, and the fact that these devices work is a powerful vindication of modern scientific principles. Science is different from other academic pursuits because it is falsifiable. Science makes rapid progress because the correctness of scientific claims and achievements can be tested. Yet, many people still approach problems using non-scientific reasoning and hold onto beliefs that are testably and verifiably false. (In the US there are ten times as many astrologers as astronomers!) How should we as scientists communicate science in an attractive and nonthreatening way to the general public? Why do people stubbornly hold onto their belief systems, even in the face of irrefutable contrary evidence? An early and interesting examination of these questions may be found in the remarkable book Tom Sawyer by the American author Mark Twain.


16 January 2012

Lee Thompson, University of Sheffield

How to Catch a Neutrino

Of all the fundamental particles the neutrino is the most enigmatic, possessing almost no mass, no charge and only interacting very weakly. This leads to neutrinos being difficult, almost impossible to detect. The challenge of detecting neutrinos has lead to innovative experiments involving huge detectors under mountains, in the South Polar ice and at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The talk will review the different techniques involved in 'catching' a neutrino and results coming from these experiments.



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