7:30 pm

After ten highly successful years, the organisers of Wallingford Science Exchange have decided, with much regret, that it's time to step down. The cafe sci network will miss them; they've been exceptional members of the cafe family. 


If you would be interested in re-starting the cafe, please email cafe scientifique at the email address above.


Wallingford Science Exchange was supported by


Our thanks to Wallingford School for hosting the 2017/2018 programme.

Cafe Scientifique
  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Recent speakers   

Tuesday 10th July 2018

Heart Failure: making sense of the data

Jennifer Rogers, University of Oxford


Much of Dr Rogers' work in the area of statistics in healthcare has been in the field of heart failure, with a particular interest in the analysis of recurrent hospitalisations. Come and find out about the challenges of developing novel statistical approaches and obtaining regulatory approval in this vital area of healthcare.


Not only does Dr Rogers have a busy research programme focused on statistical methodology, with particular regard to the development and use of new statistical methods for the analysis of large-scale clinical trials, but she is also Vice President the Royal Statistical Society.  Additionally, Dr Rogers can be found giving conference presentations and talking all things statistics in schools, theatres and pubs, and sometimes on TV and radio as well!



Tuesday 8th May 2018

 Hearing Hidden Sounds: How they help us to predict the weather


Graeme Marlton, University of Reading


Imperceptible to humans without specialist recording equipment, low-frequency sound waves are observed throughout the atmosphere. Where do these waves come from? How are they linked to nuclear non-proliferation, and why in the future might we use them to improve our long-range weather forecasts?  You might also get to hear some of these sounds, if you listen carefully!


Tuesday 6th March 2018

 Sex Hormones in the Water


Andrew Johnson, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology


Back in the 1990s it was noticed that male fish living in proximity to sewage effluent in our rivers were showing signs of changing sex.  These male fish were developing female characteristics such as the presence of eggs in the testes.  This phenomenon was most closely associated with the escape of human excreted estrogens, both natural and synthetic, from sewage treatment plants.  At the same time, concerns over human health developed with the concept of the ‘testicular dysgenesis syndrome’ being raised which included issues liking declining sperm counts.  The talk will discuss how these topics developed and where we are now.


Tuesday 9th January 2018

Feeling and Thinking in the Ageing Brain 


Dr Carien van Reekum, University of Reading


As we age, we experience a decline of memory and thinking abilities associated with shrinking brains. Does this decline affect the way we regulate stress? What are the consequences of age-related brain changes for our sense of wellbeing? Can we slow down or reverse the effects of age on the brain and mental performance through exercise or “brain training”? In this talk, Dr van Reekum  will review the findings of recent work that addresses these questions. Through informal discussion with the audience she hopes to gain some ideas and suggestions for future research.


Carien van Reekum is an Associate Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience. She trained in the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA, prior to joining the University of Reading in 2007. She currently focuses her research on cognition, emotion and wellbeing across the lifespan, with a focus on ageing. Dr van Reekum is a research director of the Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience Research Division and serves on the Advisory Board of the Berkshire Memory and Cognition Research Centre at the University of Reading. She envisions expanding her work on the ageing brain to understand and help improve wellbeing in individuals experiencing mild cognitive impairment and dementia


 Tuesday 14th November 2017

The 100,000 Genomes Project

Jennifer Whitfield, Oxford NHS Genomic Medicine Centre

The 100,000 Genomes Project aims to sequence the genomes of approximately 70,000 NHS patients with rare diseases and cancer.  This is currently the largest national sequencing project of its kind in the world. The ultimate goal is to create a new genomic medicine service in the NHS, transforming patient care and enabling research into the causes and treatment of genetic disease.  For some patients a genetic diagnosis will be made where this hasn’t previously been possible, for others, particularly cancer patients, there is the potential for new personalised treatments. 

The talk will introduce genomics and the 100,000 Genomes Project, the challenges it faces, and how it hopes to make personalised medicine a reality. 

If you had your genome sequenced, what would it tell you?  Would you want to know?

Tuesday 26th September 2017

Penguin Watch: How You Can Make A Difference to Penguin Survival


Dr Tom Hart, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford


The polar regions are well known as harsh environments. As a result, they are often data-deficient for key animals such as penguins, which are threatened by climate change and over-fishing.


Dr Tom Hart will talk about his research with penguins and other marine predators, in particular the network of cameras he has set up around the Antarctic and, more recently, the Arctic. He will describe the innovative solutions that he and his team have developed to monitor animals remotely. He will then explain how you can help with this essential research via Penguin Watch.



Tuesday 11th July 2017

The Challenge of Antimicrobial Resistance and its Relevance in the Environment

Dr Andrew Singer, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the clinical setting has received increasing coverage in the media in the past few years. However, emerging research shows that it is more than just the overuse of antibiotics which leads to AMR. The use of biocides and heavy metals contribute to the global problem of AMR and targeting antibiotic overuse alone will not solve it. The talk will highlight the complexity of the drivers and pathways involved in the current global problem that is Antimicrobial Resistance.

Andrew Singer completed his PhD in Soil and Water Science in California in 2000. He is a molecular microbial ecologist with expertise in pollution chemistry and water quality assessment and mitigation based at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Crowmarsh Gifford. He leads and collaborates on research projects focused on: 1) catchment scale molecular analysis and aetiology of antibiotic resistance genes, and 2) the role of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance gene dissemination from wastewater on AMR (antimicrobial resistance) selection and maintenance in river systems.




Tuesday 23rd May 2017

Nuclear Fusion: An Engineer's View

Roel Verhoeven, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

Nuclear fusion has long been a goal for physicists and engineers. The prize (a cost-effective energy supply) is big, but so are the challenges. In this talk Roel Verhoeven will give an overview of what nuclear fusion is and how it could be achieved. Some of the key challenges and new technologies will be highlighted. Unfortunately no promises will be made on when fusion will be achieved!

Roel Verhoeven is a senior design engineer at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. He's worked on JET (currently the world's largest fusion machine), ITER (soon to be even bigger) and MAST (the UK's newest fusion machine). Prior to his fusion work he worked at a UK nuclear (fission) power station.



Tuesday 28th March 2017

Why You Should Love Wasps

Doctor Seirian Sumner, University College London

Everyone loves bees: they’re cute, cuddly and provide a pollination service on which our health and happiness depends. Everyone is awe-struck by ants, with their underground cities, exquisite morphologies and behavious, and a communication system that puts the internet to shame. No-one loves wasps, the maligned gangsters of the insect world. Sierian Sumner's mission is to make you think differently about the insects with which you fight at summer picnics.

Dr Seirian Sumner is a Reader in Behavioural Ecology at University College London. Seirian’s research sits at the interface of behavioural ecology, biodiversity and conservation. She uses a combination of field ecology and genomics techniques to address questions about how and why animals live in societies.



Tuesday 24th January 2017

Effective Altruism 

Professor Hilary Greaves, University of Oxford


Effective Altruism is a growing social movement consisting of individuals who recognise that, as in habitants and citizens of the affluent West, they have significant opportunities to improve the world through individual and group action. Combining this basic thought with a strong commitment to the use of evidence and reason to work out *how* best to improve the world, Effective Altruists are led to take a wide range of actions, from financial donations to carefully chosen charities to some perhaps surprising career choices. I will talk about what this looks like in practice in the lives of several existing 'EAs', and how it could affect yours.


Hilary Greaves is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Her research focusses on various issues in ethical theory, with a special focus on issues that lie at the interface of ethics and economics. She has also previously worked on the foundations of physics, and on formal epistemology.



Tuesday 22nd November 2016

Uncovering the Building Blocks of the Universe

Professor Alan Barr, University of Oxford


The search to understand the basic constituents of matter has led scientists to build international collaborations and some of the largest scientific projects in the world. This talk will describe work at the Large Hadron Collider, and discuss what it has already told us, and what it might tell us in the future, about the world around us. 


Alan Barr is active in communicating Physics to the public. As well as TV interviews with Sky, ITV and Channel 4 News, he presented a documentary on Large Hadron Colllider  physics which was broadcast on the National Geographic Channel.




Tuesday 27th September 2016

Fight for Sight 

Maria Moreira Patricio, Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Oxford


Curing blindness has been the focus of many research groups over the years, and the gene therapy approach has shown very promising data so far. The Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology in Oxford is currently leading a gene therapy trial to treat choroideremia, and also developing treatments for other macular and retinal degenerations.


Maria is a postdoctoral scientist from Portugal, who has been working in Oxford for more than 2 years. She studied molecular biology of the retina during her PhD, and embraced a project in Oxford to develop and test new treatment for retinal disorders. She will discuss the key scientific aspects behind the “first-in-men” choroideremia trial, as well as  the current and prospective research projects.



Tuesday 5th July 2016

Treating Autoimmune Disorders - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Dr Andrew Nesbitt, Field Medical Director, UCB


Good progress has been made in developing treatments for autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease; the various approaches will be explained. However, the treatments do not cure the vast majority of patients and some do not respond at all for reasons which are unclear. In addition, various side-effects are associated with treatments. Possible solutions will be discussed.


Andrew Nesbitt took a first degree in Biochemistry and a PhD in Cellular Immunology. Since then he has worked for Celltech and now UCB, researching potential treatments for autoimmune diseases. 



Tuesday 10th May 2016

Human-wildlife interactions: can lions and humans co-exist?

Amy Dickman, University of Oxford 


As a conservation biologist, Dr Dickman seeks to understand what drives conflict between large carnivores and humans so that these issues can be resolved. The death of Cecil the lion in 2015 is just one example of the challenging relationship between man and the natural world.

Amy Dickman has worked with lions in Africa for many years. She is a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group, the African Lion Working Group and has established the Ruaha Carnivore Project in southern Tanzania. Dr Dickman has a great deal of practical experience of working with big cats and will describe her research into the maintenance of threatened wildlife populations, such as lions, in human-dominated landscapes.


Tuesday 8th March 2016

The science and ethics of assistive reproductive technologies to avoid the transmission of mitochondrial disease: three-person IVF

Andy Greenfield, Medical Research Council


In-Vitro Fertilisation has been used successfully for many years now. Sperm and eggs are united outside the body to create an embryo which is then implanted in the mother's uterus to develop into a baby.  

 In 2005, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) licenced the first UK research project to investigate embryo reconstruction to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease. This requires a third donor to supply healthy mitochondria. Andy Greenfield will describe two of the techniques which were developed and will explain the rigorous processes involved before these techniques became legal in October 2015.


Andy Greenfield is a geneticist and developmental biologist working at the MRC's Mammalian Genetics Unit at Harwell, Oxfordshire. He is a member of the HFEA and chairs its Licence Committee. He is also a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.


Tuesday 12th January 2016

Measuring Happiness

Peter Adamson

Once a certain level of wealth has been achieved, does continued economic growth really make people happier and more satisfied with their lives? Or does the appartent rise in environmental damage, stress, depression and mental ill-health mean that the engine of economic growth has become uncoupled from the train of human well-being?


Such questions have prompted academics and researchers to explore ways of measuring human well-being directly rather than by using GDP per capita as a proxy. But can well-being and life-satisfaction really be defined, measured and monitored? Can 'Happiness Economics' ever really be a science? And could it really be, as some researchers have claimed, 'a remarkable new tool for policymakers'?


Peter Adamson's talk will explore the pros, cons and pitfalls of current attempts to measure and compare levels of happiness and life-satisfaction in the world's advanced industrial societies.


After founding the 'New Internationalist' magazine, Peter Adamson was for sixteen years Senior Adviser to the Executive Director of UNICEF, with responsibility for the annual 'State of the World's Children' report and 'The Progress of Nations'.


Working with the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Peter also initiated the 'Report Card' series monitoring child well-being in advanced industrial economies and has been series editor for the last twelve years.


Peter has been married for 48 years to Lesley Adamson who is also his professional partner. The couple have two children and live near Wallingford. 



Tuesday 10th November 2015

Climate Change and the Paris Conference

Professor Richard Harding, formerly Director of Biogeosciences at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Crowmarsh Gifford


Richard Harding updates us on the science of climate change and gives us a preview of likely outcomes from the Paris Conference on Climate Change in December.


Tuesday 22nd September 2015

Arsenic to zygote: the work of the Health Protection Research Unit

Tim Marczylo, Public Health England


The Health Protection Research Unit (a collaborative venture between Public Health England and UK Universities) carries out epidemiological assessments of low level environmental exposures; reviews modes and methods of chemical toxicity; and considers the health impacts of low dose radiation and of noise and air pollution.     This talk will look at some aspects of the HPRU's work, including human foetal biomonitoring; early life epigenetics; the role of pollutants in the development of childhood asthma; and the contribuition of bio-aeroallergens to non-seasonal allergenic rhinitis.


Tim Marczylo is a Prinicipal Toxicologist at Public Health England and a visiting lecturer at King's College London and the University of Leicester.  At PHE, he has an advisory role and a research role, running the analytical laboratories. He is particularly interested in human bio-monitoring and toxicity of nano-materials.  




Wednesday 8th July 2015

You are what your mother ate: how life in the womb shapes your future

Susan Ozanne, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge

In the 1990s, researchers discovered that our chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes were determined not just by the genes inherited from our parents, but also by our environment, including the food that we eat. Perhaps most surprisingly, it is not only our own diet that influences our chances of developing the disease, but even the food we received as a foetus in the womb. Therefore the phrase "you are what you eat" could be expanded to "you are what you mother ate"!


Professor Susan Ozanne attended Wallingford School before studying Biochemistry at Edinburgh and then working on Type 2 Diabetes for her PhD at Cambridge. She has been involved in research into Nutritional Programming for almost 20 years.  



Wednesday 20th May 2015

What is so special about Groundwater?

Katya Manamsa, British Geological Survey

Groundwater is a vital source of fresh water in the UK. On average, it supplies almost one-third of public water, but in some areas, including south-east England, groundwater constitutes nearly 90% of public supply. The British Geological Survey (BGS) undertakes research on environmental issues related to groundwater. This includes security of supply, in terms of quantity and quality, through to the effects of pollution, flooding and, more recently, shale gas extraction.


But what is groundwater, where can it be found, and why should YOU care?


Katya Manamsa is a hydrogeologist with BGS, having previously worked for the Environment Agency. Her current job involves research into the types of compounds found in groundwater, groundwater flooding and the national methane baseline.



Tuesday 17th March 2015

The Mathematics of Networks

Mason Porter, University of Oxford

From interacting wth our friends on Facebook to getting stuck (again) at Birmingham New Street station, networks pervade our lives. They have fascinating structural properties that affect how we experience them, how rumours and diseases propagate on them, and more. To study networks is to study how things are connected and the ramifications of connectivity. Professor Mason Porter of the University of Oxford will give an introduction to the mathematics that underlie networks.


Tuesday 20th January 2015

The River of Life: creating new wetland habitats along the River Thames

Lizzie Rhymes, The Environment Agency
Chris Parker, The Earh Trust


Working with the Environment Agency, the Earth Trust is creating a truly wild stretch of river. Avoiding any impacts on navigation, they have introduced backwaters to feed new wetland habitats on the south bank of the Thames for approximately 2.5 kilometes of riverbank. In June 2014, the River of Life project was joint recipient of the Best Practice Award for Practical Nature Conservation at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management.


Lizzie and Chris will tell us about the challenges of digging wetland habitats, the results to date, plans for the future and the environmental and social benefits the project is providing.


Tuesday 18th November 2014

Small is Beautiful: the story of advanced materials from a thousand years ago to the present day and beyond.

Jonathan Booth, Johnson Matthey Technology Centre, Sonning Common


 New advanced materials are often mentioned in the news as exciting and sometimes worrying new technologies that are going to revolutionise the way we live. Local scientist Jonathan Booth will give an introduction to what we mean by advanced materials and describe examples from history, where we see them today and where we are likely to see them in the future. He will demonstrate how Johnson Matthey (who have their central research centre in Sonning Common) are doing cutting-edge research into advanced materials, surface science and nano-technology, in particular the areas of minimising air pollution and green energy generation.

Jonathan Booth is a Senior Principal Scientist at the Johnson Matthey Technical Centre. His work has recently concentrated on specialist glass and precious metal technology for the automotive and photovoltaic industries in conjunction with a manufacturing unit based in Maastricht in the Netherlands.  



Tuesday 23rd September 2014

Controlling mosquitoes by releasing more mosquitoes ...

Luke Alphey, The Pirbright Institute
BBSRC Innovator of the Year


Mosquito-borne disease continues to be a major burden in many countries, with some progress against malaria but little for some other major diseases such as dengue.  Modern genetics and synthetic biology can potentially provide new control methods, delivered by releasing engineered mosquitoes to mate with the target pest population.  Such methods are potentially clean and environmentally-friendly with minimal off-target effects.  Products of genetic engineering have been well received in some contexts (insulin, vaccines) but have proved controversial in other areas (crops), though responses vary considerably in different countries – how will engineered mosquitoes be received?  Would similar approaches for livestock or crop pests, or to defend ecologically-sensitive areas against invasive insect species, be more or less acceptable?  Field trials of the first such methods have been successfully conducted with strong community support, but these have been on very small scales so far, at least relative to the scale of the problem. 

Luke Alphey is a Group Leader in the Vector-Borne Viral Diseases Programme of The Pirbright Institute, and co-founder and non-executive director of Oxitec Ltd.




Wednesday 16th July 2014

Radioactive waste - can you dig it?

Rob Whittleston, Radioactive Waste Management Directorate, Harwell


Since the 1940s, the UK has amassed approximately 600,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste from power generation, fuel reprocessing, decommisioning and nuclear deterrent programmes. The safe disposal of this nuclear legacy is a highly emotive issue of intense public interest. In 2007, the Government adopted deep burial within an engineered Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) as its final disposal policy. The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate of the Nuclear Decommisioning Authority has been tasked with implementing this policy.

Rob Whittleston is a member of the RWMD research team responsible for devising and delivering the underpinning science supporting the GDF. In his talk, Rob will give a brief history of government policy, introduce the concept of geological disposal and provide examples of the cutting-edge scientific approaches that UK and international scientists are adopting to meet the technological challenge. 

 Rob completed a PhD in Biogeochemistry and worked in research roles and in industry before joining NDA. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society. 



Tuesday 20th May 2014 at 7.30pm

The Colour of Snow

Dr Melody Sandells, University of Reading


Ask someone about snow, and you'll usually get the response "It's white" or "It's cold". Snow is a constantly evolving material and changes its form depending on the environmental conditions around it. Crystal size and colour are linked and play a critical role in the quest to use satellites to predict melt-water supply for more than a billion people. Join us on a journey to find out why snow crystals differ, how to measure the colour of snow and then how to turn this into useful information.

Mel Sandells is a research fellow at the National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Reading and is interested in the physics and remote sensing of snow.


Tuesday 18th March 2014 at 7.30pm

What is a Cyber Attack and why should it matter to all of us?

Sadie Creese, Professor of Cybersecurity, University of Oxford


Information Technology is a fundamental part of our lives, whether working, shopping, using public transport or organising our social lives. The security of the systems we use is therefore important to all of us. Debrett's recently named Professor Creese as one of the 500 most important people in Britain in recognition of her work in cybersecurity. She has worked in industry and academia and leads research in many important areas of e-security including threat modelling and detection, network defence, dependability and resilience.



Tuesday 21st January 2014

Wallingford School Library

The Harlequin Ladybird and other aliens

Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

The harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, arrived in the UK in 2004 and spread at more than 100 km per year. The fascinating story of this alien invader is being revealed through observations provided to the UK Ladybird Survey by people across the UK. The ecology of the harlequin ladybird provides an insight into invasion bioogy. Come and find out what lessons we have learnt from the harlequin ladybird.


Tuesday 19th November 2013 at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

7.00pm – 9.00pm

Science Express!

An evening of science exploration and discovery at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in Crowmarsh Gifford.  Come and hear from early stage research scientists from a wide range of local institutes, companies and agencies.

Our local area is home to a wide variety of innovation and research.  Science Express will feature researchers from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Environment Agency, Fugro, HR Wallingford, CABI, the Medical Research Council and WildCru.  Experts on wildlife friendly farming, frogs and toads in the Thames valley, submarine landslides, the value of tropical rainforests, cutting edge medical research and so much more will be on hand to share their knowledge and enthusiasm


Tuesday 15th October 2013

Is smelly sexy? Do humans have pheromones?

Dr Tristram Wyatt
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford


Charles Darwin was fascinated by chemical signals between animals, which became known as pheromones. He described how male crocodiles and goats became more smelly in the breeding season and suggested that elaborate odour glands in males evolved because the smelliest males were most successful at winning the females.

Not just goats and crocodiles, but moths, goldfish, snakes and fruit flies react to pheromones. So what about humans? Is smelly sexy? Do we have pheromones? Come and sniff out the story with Dr Tristram Wyatt as he describes how animal behaviour is changed by these invisible molecules.


 Tuesday 2nd July 2013

Plantwise - losing less to feed more

Andrea Powell
CABI, Wallingford


It has been estimated that up to 40% of the food crops grown around the world are lost to plant pests and diseases.   Reducing this figure by just 1% could feed 25 million more hungry people in the developing world.  So what can we do to achieve this?  Plantwise is an initiative, led by CABI, to improve food security and the lives of the rural poor by reducing crop losses.     This is done by gathering, organising and disseminating vital knowledge about plant health to smallholder farmers around the world.
With the right knowledge in the hands of such smallholder farmers and the wider research community we can identify plant health problems earlier, provide treatment and best practice recommendations to combat pests and improve crop yields, and slow down the spread of plant pests and diseases around the world.
Plantwise is gathering and disseminating knowledge in two ways: 1) via a network of plant clinics in the developing world to help the poorest farmers and 2) internationally via an online Knowledge Bank.   This talk will describe Plantwise in more detail and give examples of how we can use knowledge to feed more of the world’s growing population.

Andrea Powell has worked for CABI since 1991 and currently leads its publications arm.


Monday 20th May 2013

Body clocks and sleep: having the time of your life

Russell Foster 

 We are beginning to understand how the brain generates sleep and why sleep is an essential part of our biology. But until recently we had little idea why we spend 30% of our lives asleep. This ignorance is probably the main reason why our society has such little regard for sleep. At best, we tolerate the fact we need to sleep and at worst we think of sleep as an illness that needs a cure. However, the loss and disruption of sleep results in a broad range of interconnected illnesses ranging across reduced mental and physical reaction times, reduced motivation, memory loss, depression, metabolic problems, immune impairment, and even a greater risk of cancer. In an attempt to cope with tiredness we use stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine during the day and sedatives such as hypnotics and alcohol to induce sleep at night.


Russell will consider the neuroscience of sleep, why we should embrace this essential part of our biology, and what happens if we don’t!


Russell Foster FRS is Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, University of Oxford.




Monday 8th April 2013

Galaxies and black holes

Roger Davies

We have discovered that massive galaxies host supermassive black holes at their very centre, which typically have masses 0.1% of the galaxy. It turns out that the mass of the central black hole correlates with many of the large scale properties of the galaxy, whereas the gravitational influence of the black hole extends to only a minute fraction of the galaxy's size. How can this be?


Roger Davies is Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics, University of Oxford.




Tuesday 8th January 2013

From drought to flood: the remarkable hydrological transformation of 2012

Jamie Hannaford


Much of England began 2012 in a drought, facing a summer of water shortages.What happened?  Summer 2012 was one of the wettest on record and brought major flooding.


Jamie Hannaford will give an overview of the drought and the summer flooding and the impacts of these events. He will provide a historical context by comparing the events of the last few years to previous droughts and floods. He will also address the obvious pressing question – is this a sign of things to come, due to climate change?


Jamie is the head of the UK National River Flow Archive, based at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Crowmarsh Gifford.


Wednesday 14th November 2012

Cosmic Rays: messengers of the universe

Glenn Patrick


2012 is the centenary of the discovery of Cosmic Rays. Professor Glenn Patrick, from the Rutherford Appleton Laborarory, will explain how cosmic ray research has developed from those early days of exploration and adventure right up to the modern day facilities scattered around the planet today. The composition of cosmic rays, the mystery of where they originate from in the Universe and how they are produced will also be explored.


Tuesday 9th October 2012

Hedgehogs wanted, dead or alive: culling and its alternatives in wildlife management.

Hugh Warwick


Ecologist and author Hugh Warwick will use his own experience to illustrate the difficult decisions involved in wildlife management.   For example in 2003, he worked with Scottish Natural Heritage to decrease the impact of hedgehogs on ground nesting birds in the Outer Hebrides by developing a re-homing scheme.  Hugh has a deep knowledge of all things ‘hedgehog’ and has worked tirelessly to increase our awareness and understanding of them over the last few years.


Monday 2nd July 2012

Winning at the Olympics: how research into human physiology helps to deliver gold!

Charles Simpson 


What does an elite athlete need to be able to perform to the best of their ability?  How  can the science of Human Physiology be used to support the quest for a gold medal and does this research have benefits for the rest of us?

Charlie Simpson's research and teaching in Sport and Exercise Science is complemented by his practical experience as an elite rowing coach.  He will use his knowledge and experience to discuss these and other questions relating to how an understanding of human physiology can support the development of successful athletes.

Dr Simpson has a special interest in Sports drinks, hydration and exercise performance.  He is currently researching rowing performance and his new book, 'The Complete Guide to Indoor Rowing' will be published in 2012.


Monday 21st May 2012

Forked tongues: the evolution of human languages

Mark Pagel


There are about 7000 mutually unintelligible languages spoken on Earth, granting humans the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only species whose members cannot all communicate with each other.   When did human language evolve, why do only humans have language, why are there so many languages and what does the future hold for the diversity of human language?  Recent work on the ecology and evolutionary history of languages is throwing light on these questions, revealing human language as a remarkable culturally transmitted trait whose features reflect a strong role in establishing and maintaining cultural identities as well as in communication.

Mark Pagel FRS is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Reading.  His book 'Wired for Culture' is published in February-March of 2012


Monday 12th March 2012

Doping in the Olympics: are the test results certain?

Richard Caldwell


The Drug Control Centre at King's College, London, is the only laboratory in the UK which is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency to test sportsmen and women for prohibited substances. It will be responsible for drug testing at the 2012 London Olympics. Richard Caldwell will tell us about the Olympic laboratory being built in Harlow and the staff who will be working there.  He will go on to describe the substances banned in sport; the reasons why they are banned; and how the Drug Control Centre can identify these substances.

Richard Caldwell is a biochemist who previously worked in an NHS Poisons Unit at Guys Hospital. While working at the Drug Control Centre, he has been involved in testing athletes participating in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.


Tuesday 10th January 2012

From Darwin to DNA: shaking the tree of animal evolution

Peter Holland


Evolution is often compared to a branching tree, but what is the shape of this tree? Who is related to whom, and how do we know? In recent years DNA evidence has forced major changes to the tree of life, revealing unexpected cousins and distant relatives. Molecular studies are also throwing light on how new types of animal arose during the 600 million years of animal evolution.

Peter Holland FRS is Linacre Professor and Head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. His latest book, The Animal Kingdom, was published in 2011.


Tuesday 8th November 2011

The healing power of plants

Timothy Walker


Mankind has exploited the medicinal properties of plants for thousands of years, yet the role of plants in modern medicine is still considered to be peripheral by many people. Timothy will set the record straight and show that plant products are used every day by all of us to relieve pain and suffering, to heal wounds and to cure diseases.


Wednesday 5th October 2011

What's the problem with maths?

David Acheson

David Acheson wonders why so many people say they hate maths. He believes that the subject is full of wonderful surprises that anyone can enjoy, ranging from mind-reading 'tricks' with the number 1089 to using calculus to play the guitar.


Wednesday 6th July 2011

Extinction: can it be stopped

Kathy Willis

What causes extinction? How can we detect natural variability from actual decline? What is research into human-driven extinctions telling us about the way forward? Kathy Willis will discuss these pressing questions using her own work on biodiversity loss shown by fossil and historical records.


Monday 23rd May 2011

Have I got snooze for you

Peter Oliver

Sleep is something that influences all our lives. From the struggle to get up on Monday mornings to coping with jet-lag, the body has to carefully balance our need to be alert or to be at rest. But how does the brain control this? How much sleep do we really need? Why do flamingos sleep on one leg?


Monday 21st March 2011

Radiation and reason

Wade Allison

We have all been brought up to see radiation, especially nuclear radiation, as exceptionally dangerous. But humans should use study and thought to avoid danger. So, let's ask the question, why do we believe that radiation is dangerous? And, in fact, how dangerous is it? Or, if we learn to harness it, as our ancestors did successfully with fire, is it to be welcomed?


Tuesday 9th November 2010

Using technology to fight poverty

Sean Sutcliffe

Using his engineering background, Sean will talk about the work of Practical Action, a development charity working closely with some of the world’s poorest people, using simple technology to challenge poverty and transform their lives for the better.  The charity does not start with the technology, but with the people. The tools are firmly in the hands of local people who shape the technology and control it for themselves


Wednesday 6th October 2010

30,000 years of watching paint dry ...

a guided tour from the earliest uses of paint technology to the challenges of the twenty-first century

Judith Hardy

Development of paint technology through the centuries to the present day. Despite a 30,000 year heritage, paints and coatings are still active areas of research and development, with many new challenges coming to light, not least of which is the need to provide environmentally sustainable routes to protection and decoration for a multitude of surfaces.


Monday 5th July 2010

The tropics of Wallingford?

Mike Clare

Climate change is certainly not a new topic for discussion but Mike Clare will take Science Exchange on a trip back in time to look at how Wallingford's climate has changed from the tropical balmy seas of the Jurassic to the icy Siberian-type plains of the last Ice Age.  


Tuesday 18th May 2010

Understanding the ageing brain: challenges for modern medicine

Paul Bolam

How are regions of the brain put together? How do nerve cells interact?  What goes wrong in disease and as we get older?  Using his research into Parkinson’s disease, which affects at least 120,000 people in the UK, Paul Bolam will investigate these questions. He will show how research into what goes wrong in brain disease can support and develop medical care which currently focuses on treating the symptoms of illness rather than the root causes.


Wednesday 17th March 2010

Taking light in new directions: what can the Diamond Synchrotron do? 

Michelle Warren

Light can be used in a surprising variety of ways to reveal fine detail within materials. A synchrotron, such as Diamond Light Source, produces very intense beams of light in the spectrum from infra-red to x-rays, which allow scientists to carry out experiments in fields from chemistry and medicine to engineering and archaeology. How can one machine enable research in so many different area, and why is it so big when many of the samples studied are very small?


Wednesday 13th January 2010

Aliens versus predators: could the game be up?

Richard Shaw

Some non-native or alien plants can become invasive in new environments. Innovative ways, for example the use of natural enemies, are needed to control them. Dick will describe this kind of biological control using a pioneering project against Japanese Knotweed. If successful, this project will result in the first intentional release of a classic biological control agent against a weed in Europe.


Tuesday 10 November 2009

Emerging infectious diseases: scary or not?

Angela McLean

Angela McLean will talk about the infectious diseases that emerged in the past and why it is hard to predict which will cause problems in the future. She will present some ideas about what makes certain infections particularly hard to control and why some of the most dramatic ones are not the ones we need to worry about. 


Wednesday 7th January 2009

Chasing the big bang: new technologies for age-old questions

Roger Eccleston

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN will shed new light on some of the fundamental questions about the origins of the Universe and the nature of matter.  The construction of this remarkable machine has involved the development of cutting-edge technologies and advanced engineering from novel detector systems to large superconducting magnets.  Roger will describe some of the technical challenges and their solutions.


Tuesday 11th November 2008

The science of bird navigation

Tim Guilford

From homing pigeons to shearwaters, birds are truly remarkable navigators but how do they know where to go? Surprising answers are now emerging thanks to GPS tracking and miniaturised electronics. 


Wednesday 8th October 2008

Back from the brink? Saving Britain’s butterflies

Jeremy Thomas

Several species of butterflies have become extinct in Britain, and many others are in decline. What are the causes and what can be done?


Wednesday 16th July 2008

Climate change – science and speculation

Richard Harding

It is now generally accepted that our climate is changing and the increase in temperature observed in recent decades is primarily due to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.  Richard Harding will explore what we know about climate change and what is less certain. He will look at how issues are reported in the media and how we should respond to the certainties and uncertainties ahead of us.


Wednesday 24 June 2008

Fusion: powering our future?

Chris Warrick

With fossil fuel reserves dwindling and environmental concerns over the emission of greenhouse gases, the search for alternative energy sources is becoming a prominent social issue. A world-wide research programme is studying the viability of nuclear fusion - the process that powers the Sun - as a future energy source – offering essentially unlimited energy supplies with no greenhouse gas emissions and short lived radio-activity, compared to fission.  


Tuesday 27th May 2008

Atmospheric electricity on Earth and in the solar system

Karen Aplin, Space Science and Technology Department, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

The first observations of lightning on Jupiter from the Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s showed that thunderstorms are not restricted to Earth. Since then lightning has been photographed and its radio emissions recorded from Saturn and Venus as well as Jupiter. Lightning is atmospheric electricity at its most spectacular, but smaller-scale electrical processes occur continually in all planetary atmospheres. 


Wednesday 26th March 2008

The aardvark, the computer and the radium cutlet

Peter Gilliver, Associate Editor, Oxford English Dictionary.

Peter was recently part of the OED expert panel on the BBC 2 programme Balderdash and Piffle and has a particular expertise in scientific words.  Peter’s talk will describe the challenge of keeping up with science in the Dictionary and will cover a broad and anecdote-rich area.