Our speakers come from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions. Take a look at their biographies and their talks below:
Prof Dame Athene Donald (Cambridge)
Athene Donald is a Professor at the University of Cambridge, where she has spent most of her academic life. Her field of research has moved over the years from the study of plastics, to food and other common everyday materials such as paint and cement, but now mainly concentrates on problems relating to biology. However, many of the basic concepts and theories are common across all these different classes of materials, one of the things that makes the field so interesting.
Her talk: "Goo: The Physics of the Everyday Stuff that Surrounds Us"
The everyday world we live in is full of soft, squidgy stuff, ranging from food to glues to medical ointments, as well as natural examples such as slug slime and the mucus inside our own bodies. Controlling just how squidgy or runny these materials are is crucial for their function. Polymer molecules - long chain molecules typically mainly composed of carbon and hydrogen - are key to controlling these properties. Understanding the role of these molecules’ long chain nature enables us to design and control the flow of these sorts of materials.
Prof Kathy Willis (Oxford)
Professor Kathy Willis is the Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity in the department of Zoology University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford Martin School Biodiversity Institute. Kathy’s degree in Environmental Sciences (University of Southampton), followed by a PhD and a Research Fellowship in Plant Sciences (University of Cambridge), a University Lectureship, Readership and Professorship in Physical Geography (University of Oxford) and now a Professorship in Zoology. Kathy has been involved with research and teaching in biodiversity, conservation and management for the past 20 years. She has worked on a number of projects examining changes in biological diversity in time and space and the impact this has on the important services that biodiversity provides to human well-being.
Her talk: "Where can we damage? Biodiversity planning for the future"
Where in the world can we damage? Increasing global pressures on land for food, fuel, industrialisation and population growth, makes this question pertinent for large areas of terrestrial and marine landscapes. Globally, unprotected landscapes account for 88% of land surface. It is in these unprotected areas that conversion of land from ‘natural’ to ‘other’ uses occurs on a daily basis. Yet it is widely acknowledged that unprotected land is not of equal value in terms of the biological diversity that it contains with the risk that natural habitats for animals and plants are destroyed leading to the extinction of certain species on an unprecedented scale. So where in unprotected landscapes should conversion to other uses be allowed; where are the ‘least valuable’ areas? And what scientific knowledge do we require to determine these areas? Whilst the question ‘where can we damage?’ may seem unpalatable to many, it is only by asking such questions that we can start to find pragmatic science-based solutions to tackle the one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century; global biodiversity loss.
Prof Helen Dawes
Helen Dawes, Elizabeth Casson Trust Chair, leads the Movement Science Group based in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. Helen initially trained and practiced as a physiotherapist specializing in sport physiotherapy and working in the UK and New Zealand, prior to undertaking postgraduate training in exercise science and neuroscience. Helen then embarked on a PhD exploring exercise for people with neurological conditions. She has since then focused on optimizing performance of everyday activities through rehabilitation and on enabling physically active lifestyles in adults and children with disorders affecting movement such as: stroke, Parkinson's, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Her research requires cross-disciplinary collaborations. In order to ensure that the research addresses important issues affecting people’s lives, all research activities are guided and monitored by User Steering Groups (adult and children). Her activities include research, teaching and the provision of a Clinical Exercise and Rehabilitation in the community. Her research spans from exploring underlying mechanisms affecting performance through to service delivery of subsequently developed interventions and tools.
Her talk: Movement Prints
Helen’s talk will discuss work with the Movement Science Group at Oxford Brookes University evaluating factors affecting optimal human performance in health and disease – from investigating how the brain and muscles enable us to move, through developing tools to measure movement in the real world, to exploring how movement through exercise can benefit health, wellbeing and quality of life for all.
Dr Nichola Raihani (UCL)
"I am interested in the evolution of social behaviour. Specifically I ask why individuals behave altruistically when they are often tempted to behave selfishly. I have a particular interest in the role that punishment plays in maintaining cooperative behaviour where individuals would otherwise be tempted to cheat. I use a range of model organisms, including social mole-rats, coral reef dwelling cleaner fish and humans. In real life I enjoy playing the ukulele and have recently become a mum to Joseph!"
Her talk: "Helpful humans and friendly fish - common mechanisms for cooperative behaviour in nature"
Helping behaviour presents an evolutionary puzzle since individuals are expected to benefit by looking out for themselves. Essentially, helping behaviour is only expected to evolve where it provides ultimate benefits to the helpful individual. Understanding the forces which promote helping behaviour is the focus of my research. In some cases, individuals help others because they share genes. However, in many cases individuals help others that they are unrelated to and that they may never have met and will never meet again. This sort of cooperation is extremely common in human societies but also occurs in some nonhuman systems. I aim to uncover the mechanisms that promote helping behaviour in different systems and, in doing so, to determine whether human cooperation is truly unique.
Dr Heather Whitney (Bristol)
Dr Heather Whitney is a plant scientist at the University of Bristol. She works on the interactions between plants and animals and the strategies that plants use, including the many ways flowers can attract pollinators such as bumblebees, or leaves can repel herbivores such as locusts. She is particularly interested in the plant surface and how in some species it is modified so it can manipulate light, producing a form of colour called iridescence (which can also be seen on the surface of bubbles, peacock feathers and opals).
Her talk: "Peacock ferns and metallic moss - why are some plants iridescent?"
Iridescence is a type of colour produced by structure rather than pigment. It can produce very intense, vivid colours, and many animals such as peacocks and butterflies have taken advantage of this effect and use iridescence to produce some of the most amazing displays in nature. However, the production of iridescence is not limited to the animal kingdom - many plants also produce iridescence. I will describe some of the ways plants produce these colours, and how we are trying to work out why they might have evolved to do this.
Ruth Amos is just 22 but has achived much in that time. She has been Young Engineer for Britain, with the StairSteady which she designed aged 15. Ruth set up StairSteady Ltd in 2006 and now runs it full time organising distribution UK wide and has just entered into the European market. Ruth works on projects to promote enterprise as a Make Your Mark Ambassador, a Cragrats Ambassador, an enterprise Role model, and a STEM ambassador and a Bloodhound SSC Ambassador. Ruth has won Management Today’s 35 Women under 35, Women of the Future ‘young star’ Award, Yorkshire 42 under 42 and ‘Women of Achievement’ by the Women of the Year Foundation. Ruth is currently fundraising for a trip to Zambia with Habitat for Humanity. She is a Trustee of Sheffield Youth Theatre and an active member of the Fair Trade Steering Group. Ruth is also a member of the National Youth Theatre.
Her talk: "The Science behind being an Inventor"
In science we often talk about theory. As an inventor Ruth talks about how to take the science and make something practical, the science in invention, the link between the theory and the practical. how to make science commercial. How the world of Science and business interact and work together.
Dr Samia Elfekih (Imperial College & Natural History Museum, London)
Dr. Elfekih has a Ph.D. from the University of Tunis El Manar (Tunisia). She is currently a UNESCO-L’OREAL Postdoctoral scientist at Imperial College and the Natural History Museum in London. Her research focuses on insect populations genomics. She is particularly concerned about the possible effects of climate change on invasive insect pests such as the Mediterranean fruit fly in this particular areas of the world. Dr Elfekih is currently investigating the genetic mechanisms of pesticide resistance in invasive species to better understand how resistance originates and how mutant genes coding for resistance have spread geographically, across diverse environmental conditions.
Her talk: "The genomics of pesticide resistance in the case of fruit flies of economic importance"
The Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) Ceratitis capitata is one of the most invasive insect pests worldwide. It is a highly damaging agricultural pest. Despite environmental concerns, insecticides remain the most important strategy used in medfly control. Pesticides target the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, a key enzyme in the insect’s nervous system, and inhibit its activity. Heavy use of these chemicals generated a widespread resistance due to changes in the enzyme. The main aim of my research is to investigate the genetic mechanisms of resistance in medfly to better understand how resistance originates and how mutant genes responsible for resistance have spread worldwide.
Dr Deborah Goberdhan (Oxford)
Dr Deborah Goberdhan is a Departmental Lecturer in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford. After her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Oxford, she developed a keen interest in biology during a six month project in the Amazonian rainforest. She then started to use genetic approaches to address biological questions, while working in labs at Harvard and MIT in the USA, before doing her PhD at the University of Kent. Her team uses the tiny fruit fly to understand how growth is regulated in normal and cancer cells. Perhaps surprisingly, many of these findings are highly relevant to human health and disease. Deborah, together with husband Clive, has two daughters, Silvana and Tara, aged 21 and 14.
Her talk: "How do cells and animals know how much to grow?"
Growth is controlled by our genes and by what we eat. But how do genes and nutrients work together in this process? While flies and humans may look very different, when it comes down to the genes that control basic processes like cell growth, they are remarkably similar. I will discuss how work with flies has helped my research group at Oxford to discover an unexpected way in which cells, in flies and humans, sense and use nutrients in their environment to grow. We have found that cancer cells may exploit this nutrient-sensing mechanism to grow faster than normal cells in the adverse conditions in which they are typically found. I’ll also talk about the work that we are doing with clinicians to see if this difference could be targeted by drugs to selectively block tumour cell growth.
Prof Judith Mank (UCL)
Judith Mank is Professor and Chair of Evolutionary and Comparative Biology in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. Her research interests are focused on understanding the genetics behind differences in males and females, and how evolution has shaped the genome to produce distinct female and male forms.
Her talk: "What makes us different: The genetics of females and males"
Females and males in many animals, including humans, are different in many ways, including how they look and behave. These differences are genetic, and yet the sexes share a nearly identical genome. This means that many differences between males and females are due to the same genes being used differently depending on sex. I’ll also talk about the sex chromosomes, the region of the genome that differs between males and females. These chromosomes, although relatively small, hold the key in many animals to fertility and attractiveness.
Prof Lesley Yellowlees (Edinburgh)
Lesley Yellowlees completed both her BSc in Chemical Physics and her PhD in Inorganic Electrochemistry at the University of Edinburgh. Her current research interests includeinorganic electrochemistry, utilisation of CO2, public engagement of science and promoting women in science. Lesley completed 5 years as Head of the School of Chemistry at Edinburgh and Director of EaStCHEM in 2010. Currently she is Vice Principal and Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. Lesley has worked with the Royal Society of Chemistry for many years, chairing their Science and Technology Board, sitting on the Publishing Board, working with the Scottish Education section and chairing the editorial Board of Chemistry World. She is President Elect for the Society and will become their first woman President in July 2012. She was awarded an MBE in 2005 for services to science. Lesley is married to Peter and they have two children, Sarah and Mark.
Her talk: "What have the chemists ever done for us?"
There’s wonderful chemistry in everything: from the simple things in life, like soft, warm, colourful clothes and delicious fresh food and drink, through to the cutting-edge screens and batteries in your smartphone and laptop. Every day you enjoy something that relies on innovative chemistry. And often the chemistry behind it is just as exciting and mindblowing as the amazing product it’s helped to create. Professor Lesley Yellowlees, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, is eager to share the love that she and her fellow chemists have for making the world a better, brighter place to live in.
Prof Caroline Dean (John Innes Centre, Norwich)
Caroline Dean is a project leader at the world-renowned John Innes Centre in Norwich. She runs a group studying the interactions of plants with their environment. Her current goal is to understand how plants monitor winter and use this to tightly regulate the timing of the switch to flowering in spring. This involves a cellular memory mechanism conserved in organisms as diverse as flies and humans. Caroline did her PhD at the University of York, spent 5 years as a post-doctoral research fellow in a biotech company in California and returned to the UK in 1988. She has two children aged 20 and 18.
Her talk: "Flowering and the memory of winter"
Have you noticed the poppies blooming recently – what is remarkable is that all the plants in the same field flower at the same time. This reflects the tight regulation of flowering time, a process controlled by many environmental cues because of its importance in determining reproductive success. My laboratory has been studying the molecular mechanisms regulating flowering focusing on how plants sense and respond to the prolonged cold of winter. A combination of approaches in the reference plant Arabidopsis thaliana has allowed us to dissect the mechanisms involved, which include a cellular memory system similar to that in our own bodies.
Prof Sunetra Gupta (Oxford)
Sunetra Gupta is Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. She studies the evolution of diversity in infectious disease systems, and has received the Scientific Medal from the Zoological Society of London and the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award for her research. Sunetra graduated from Princeton University in 1987 and obtained a PhD from Imperial College in 1992. She lives in Oxford with her husband and two daughters.
Her talk: "Dressed to kill: what do infectious disease agents have in their wardrobes?"
The ability of certain pathogens, such as those which cause malaria, influenza and HIV, to disguise themselves and evade host immunity poses an enormous challenge to developing vaccines against these important diseases. Just what do these bugs have in their wardrobes that enables them to keep outwitting us? Can we find a way to use this knowledge against them?
Dr Giovanna Tinetti (UCL)
Dr. Giovanna Tinetti is a Royal Society URF and Reader at the University College London, where she leads a team on exoplanets since 2007. She received the 2011 Institute of Physics Moseley Medal for having pioneered the use of infrared, transit spectroscopy to detect the molecular composition of exoplanets. Dr. Tinetti is the principal investigator of the UK-led payload consortium of EChO, the Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory. EChO is an European Space Agency mission dedicated to the study of exoplanetary atmospheres and competing for a launch in 2022. G. Tinetti is an editor for Icarus, the planetary journal of the American Astronomical Society. She has authored more than eighty refereed publications.
Her talk: The Exoplanet Revolution
The science of exoplanets is one of the most rapidly changing and excitingareas of astrophysics. Since 1995, the number of planets around other stars has increased by three orders of magnitude. The smallest exoplanet known today is Mars-sized.
The observation of the exoplanet atmospheres is now right at the cutting edge of exoplanet science. Using Hubble, Spitzer and ground-based telescopes, molecules such as water, methane and carbon-dioxide, have been discovered in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. In the next decade, the European Space Agency mission candidate EChO is expected to unveil the composition of tens of exoplanets, including potentially habitable ones.
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