UK: Glasgow

Waterstones Bookshop
Sauchiehall Street
First Monday of the month, 7pm

Glasgow Cafe Scientifique is moving! From May 2017, we will be meeting in 

Waterstones Bookshop, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Mandy Maclean
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Kevin O'Dell; Martin Hendry
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Website Cafe Scientifique Glasgow



Monday 8th May 2017

The Internet of Things, big data and networks: a mathematician's perspective

Des Higham


The "Internet of Things" is the concept of connecting any device to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything with an on/off switch, including cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else we can think of. Ultimately, the Internet of Things should involve physical objects seamlessly integrating into the information network for social and economic benefit.


At the heart of the Internet of Things are data; digital records of everything including humans (anyone seen ‘Persons of Interest’?!), technology and other interactions. These data streams are large-scale, varied and rapidly changing. Making sense of these data raises many interesting challenges for people working in mathematics, statistics, computer science and related disciplines.


Des will discuss success stories, bottlenecks and wish-lists. Along the way, he will mention how Google used graphs to tame the WWW, how new ideas allow us to rank supermarkets according to on-line brand allegiance and how we can compare the cliquiness of ten UK cities.


Des Higham holds the 1966 Chair of Numerical Analysis at the University of Strathclyde. His research interests revolve around the design and evaluation of computational methods. He was awarded a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2011 and currently holds a five year Established Career Fellowship from the EPSRC/Digital Economy Theme to work in Data Analytics for Future Cities.



Monday 2nd October 2017

The operatic castrato and his anatomical abnormalities

Brianna Robertson-Kirkland


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


Brianna will explore the anatomical abnormalities of the castrato, how these physical changes predisposed him for an operatic career, and address how these changes have had a lasting effect on modern-day opera.


Brianna's PhD, completed in 2016, examined the eigtheenth century castrato singer Venanzio Rauzzini, and the education and career of his operatic students. Her work was funded by the College of Arts Internship Scholarship. Brianna regularly performs in solo recitals and has taken part in masterclasses with Emma Kirkby, Robert Toft and Nicholas Clapton. She was part of a recording project for The Centre for Robert Burns Studies, which was filmed as part of the BBC documentary Burns, My Dad and Me, broadcast in 2016.


Recent speakers   

Monday 3rd April 2017

Genetic and environmental factors influencing health and well-being

Donald Lyall


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



Monday 6th March 2017

Genome vs epigenome: the clay and the mould

Douglas Vernimmen


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



Monday 6th February 2017

Scotland's Jurassic Park: new discoveries from the Isle of Skye and what they tell us about dinosaur evolution

Steve Brusatte

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



Monday 5th December 2016

The Zika virus

Claire Donald


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



Monday 7th November 2016

Threats to Earth from space

John Brown and Massimiliano Vasile


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



Monday 3rd October 2016

Scotland: the fat, sick man of Europe

Jennifer Logue


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



Monday 5th September 2016

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

Martin Hendry


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



Monday 8th August 2016

Why do individuals differ in their metabolic rate?

Neil Metcalfe


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



Monday 13th June 2016

Can we give new biotech the green light?

Donald Bruce, Louise Horsfall & Helen Sang


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



Monday 9th May 2016

The living cella factory run by actors!

Rob Beynon

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



Monday 4th April 2016

3D-printing drugs

Lee Cronin


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



Monday 7th March 2016

What makes an animal smart?

Lauren Guillette


Animals perform behaviours that routinely surprise and impress us. Most of these are behaviours that we tend to think are special to humans, such as using tools. But animals can also do things we might find quite difficult, like remembering thousands of locations where food is hidden. Lauren will talk about her research on learning and cognition in animals and discuss questions such as: what does it mean to be smart? How do we find out if an animal is smart? And are some animals smarter than others?



Monday 1st February 2016

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

David Koppel


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



Monday 7th December 2015

The science and art of brewing

Keith Lugton


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



Monday 5th October 2015

Vision matters

Anita Simmers


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



Friday 25th September

Why you should know your blood pressure

Rhian Touyz

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


Monday 7th September 2015

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

Jim Hansom


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



Monday 10th August 2015

Viagra: Pasteur’s dictum rules! OK?

Simon Campbell


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



Monday 1st June 2015

Pain and suffering

Michael Brady


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



Monday 27th April 2015


David Bhella


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



Monday 30th March 2015

Drone warfare: a robotic future?

Ian Shaw


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



Monday 2nd March 2015

Intelligent lighting - a LED-led revolution?

Janet Milne


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



Monday 2nd February 2015


Massimilliano Vasile


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



Monday 3rd November 2014

... and breathe! - the asthma challenge

Clive Page

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



Friday 26th September 2014

Under dark skies

Steve Owens


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



Monday 1st September 2014

Crying wolf

Jo Foo

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



Monday 11th August 2014

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

Stuart Gray


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




Monday 2nd June 2014

Anatomy drawing: where art and medicine meet

George Donald


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



Monday 12th May 2014

Scots who enlightened the world

Andrew Ferguson


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



Monday 7th April 2014

Pandas, primates and penguins – an introduction to zoo science

Alaina Macri


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



Monday 3rd March 2014

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

Helen Fraser: Astronomy 2024

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

Darren Monckton: Genetics 2024

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

Richard Cogdell: BioFuels 2024

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




Monday 3rd February 2014

Life? Don't talk to me about life... Building a sarcastic robot

Matthew Aylett


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


Monday 2nd December 2013

Life = H2O

Colin Adams

Six (or perhaps seven) things you did not know about water.



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



Monday 4th November 2013

Seeing music and hearing colours

Maria Flor Kusnir



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


Monday October 7th 2013

Red hair and evolution in action

Ian Jackson



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


Monday 2nd September 2013

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

Victoria Martin 


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



Monday 5th August 2013

Periodic success

Jamie Gallagher


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



Monday 10th June 2013

Where have all the frogs gone?

Roger Downie


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



Monday 13th May 2013

A hitchhikers guide to gobsmackingly large astronomical numbers

John Brown

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

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



Monday 8th April 2013

Depicting the dead

Caroline Wilkinson


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



Monday 4th March

How's the space weather today?

Iain Hannah

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



Monday 4th February 2013

Why is science important?

Stephen Breslin


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



Monday 5th November

Reliable renewable energy

Mark Symes


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



Monday 1st October 2012

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

Rachel Myles


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



Monday 3rd September

The first hyperactive kids

Matt Smith


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



Monday 13th August 2012

Blame your parents

Kevin O'Dell


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




Monday 11th June 2012


Frank Close

What are neutrinos? Why does nature need them? What use are they?

Neutrinos are perhaps the most enigmatic particles in the universe. Formed in certain radioactive decays, they pass through most matter with ease. These tiny, ghostly particles are formed in their millions in the Sun and pass through us constantly. For a long time they were thought to be massless and, passing as they do like ghosts, were not regarded as significant. Now we know they have a very small mass and there are strong indications that they are very important indeed.


Monday 14th May 2012

Science education in Scotland

Heather Reid

Scotland has a distinguished record of discovery and innovation in science, engineering and technology and remains internationally leading in many scientific disciplines. For this to continue, we need to ensure that science education in Scotland not only inspires the next generation of scientists but also encourages a life-long interest in science amongst all our young people.



Monday 2nd April 2012

Wine and health: better under the table than under the ground? 

Roger Corder

What is healthy drinking? Newspaper articles frequently state that red wine can protect you from heart disease. Then a few days later the same newspapers report that all alcoholic drinks cause cancer. Is this bad journalism, unreliable statistics, or specific vested interests giving their own spin on these issues? Is wine the true panacea? Are all wines the same in terms of their ability to influence well-being? 



Monday 5th March

Stem cells

Ian Mackenzie

There is often talk on the radio and in the press about stem cells but it’s not always clear exactly what is being talked about or why stem cells are so special. The making of our bodies requires one cell, the egg, to generate the more than ten trillion cells that form our tissues and organs. New cells can be made only by getting an existing cell to divide and, although many cells are able to divide a bit, only stem cells can do it over and over again. This is what makes them special and why they are needed, first to develop the body and then to maintain it – the blood alone, for example, renews more than two million cells a second throughout life. The current medical excitement is generated on the one hand by the feasibility of manipulating stem cells to make replacement body parts and, on the other, from the finding that stem cells drive the growth of cancers.


Monday 6th February 2012

Radiation and reason: a clear and positive scientific account of the effect of radiation on life

Wade Allison

For more than sixty years it has been accepted that radiation, that is nuclear radiation, is quite exceptionally dangerous. Wade will re-examine the effects of radiation, using medical evidence.



Monday 5th December 2011

Exploring the world’s most advanced interaction device: the WiiMote

Dan Fitton

The humble WiiMote will celebrate its sixth birthday this year and, after some early teething troubles as a hand-held projectile, has been responsible for turning out-of-date game-console technology into an innovating gaming platform popular with young and old alike.  This talk will explore the innovative design of the WiiMote, from the way it is used to the technology inside. 


Monday 7th November 2011

The long walk to now: genetics and human migrations

Mark Jobling

The DNA we all carry is a message from our ancestors – as it passed down the generations to us, it accumulated changes that we can now analyse easily with modern genetic techniques. Most of these DNA changes were ‘neutral’ and made no difference to our ancestors’ chances of survival. Studying these can teach us about the origins of our species about 200,000 years ago and its dispersal and expansion across the world. 


Monday 3rd October 2011

The gene switch and cancer
Bob Brown

DNA contains the blueprint for all the proteins in a human that make different tissues and cells. However, the DNA in a cell from your heart, or your eye, or your big toe are all identical. So, how does the same DNA, encoding the same 25000 genes, make very different cells?
Epigenetics is the process that interprets the DNA blueprint. For each type of cell (heart, eye or big toe) epigenetic mechanisms determine which of your 25000 genes are used and which are not. This is a very important process that ensures normal development occurs. As a consequence the proteins required to make a human are made at the right time, in the right place, and in the right amount.

Monday 5th September 2011
The end of antibiotics?
Aleks Marek

Since Lister and Semmelweis in the nineteenth century the idea of hospital acquired infection has become increasingly recognised and understood, although we have come a long way from spraying theatres with carbolic acid. In recent years however the number of superbugs seems to be growing, as MRSA and multi-antibiotic resistant gut bacteria such as NDM-1 threaten us with untreatable infections. Are we winning or losing the fight? Are we reaching the end of the antibiotic era? What other strategies, not involving antibiotics, can we to use to combat infections ?

Monday 1st August 2011
Is the usual language of physics sufficient? Can poetry help our understanding?
Dino Jaroszynski, Richard Kell and John Lucas

The language of physics is mathematics. It provides a powerful means of describing nature and predicting phenomena, linking what we observe, and through its enormous predictive power enables society to take charge of nature, for the better and also for the worse.
Poetry is in many ways an analogue of mathematics. It is a concise and elegant medium of expression brought to bear on understanding the world in a very general way. Both physics and poetry involve creativity – advances are made in our understanding and new ways of seeing the world are developed. The question is: do we need the language of physics and poetry to realise something new, whether it is a new theory or a unique poetic reflection on the world?

Monday 6th June 2011
Back to the greenhouse …
James Bendle

Our atmosphere is travelling back through time. Since industrialisation, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have grown to be higher now than at any time in the last two million years. If emissions continue unabated, by the middle of the century we will effectively have higher carbon dioxide levels than any time during the last 35 million years. In other words, atmospherically speaking, we are rapidly heading back in time. What does this mean? Average planetary temperature is expected to rise in the next 100 years with continued rises in subsequent centuries. So what will the world look like? What will it feel like? Does it just mean warmer summers? Or also more wind and rain? Will there be less ice at the poles (and higher sea-levels)?

Monday 9th May 2011
Nano-biotechnology and its applications
Toby Jenkins

There is frequent reference to nanotechnology in the media, and many people, including Prince Charles, have an opinion on its merits – or otherwise. However, few people seem to know exactly what nanotechnology is – including many scientists. Still fewer have heard of nano-biotechnology: the applications of nanotechnology to biological systems.

Monday April 4th 2011
Why are we here?
Martin Hendry

Since the dawn of civilisation, human cultures have sought to understand our place in the Universe, asking "big questions" about our cosmic origins. Modern cosmology provides some startling answers: not only is the Universe expanding, that expansion is accelerating - driven by a mysterious "dark energy" which challenges our ideas about gravity and the nature of space and time. Moreover, some of the latest cosmological theories suggest that we may, in fact, inhabit one island universe in a Multiverse: a vast ensemble of distinct universes, all with different physical properties or even physical laws. What does all of this mean for our existence, our origins and our future?

Monday 7th March 2011
The sands of time: how fast do they run?
Pat Monaghan

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

Monday 7th February 2011
The Scottish Effect (and the even more extreme Glasgow Effect)
Phil Hanlon

That Scotland (in particular Glasgow and its hinterland) suffer from poor health is not news. The official story put Scotland’s poor health down to the impact of deindustrialisation and deprivation. To be clear, they are vitally important but over the past two to three decades the mortality gap between Scotland and England has been widening while the wealth gap has been narrowing. This additional mortality, beyond that which can be explained by deprivation has been dubbed the Scottish Effect.

Monday 6th December 2010
Why are we here?
Martin Hendry

Since the dawn of civilisation, human cultures have sought to understand our place in the Universe, asking "big questions" about our cosmic origins. Modern cosmology provides some startling answers: not only is the Universe expanding, that expansion is accelerating - driven by a mysterious "dark energy" which challenges our ideas about gravity and the nature of space and time. Moreover, some of the latest cosmological theories suggest that we may, in fact, inhabit one island universe in a Multiverse: a vast ensemble of distinct universes, all with different physical properties or even physical laws. What does all of this mean for our existence, our origins and our future?

Monday 1st November 2010
Our anxious genes
Jonathan Flint

How far do our genes play a part in anxiety and depression? And how can we use a better understand of the causes of these conditions to improve better therapies? Neurogenetics is the study of the genetic basis of psychiatric disorders and as our understand of the make-up and functions of the human genome improve, we can use this understanding to gain insight to the biology behind these stress-related disorders.

Monday 4th October 2010
How far for the char?
Simon Shackley

Once billed as the panacea to all our carbon problems, biofuels have lost their public gloss with concerns over their conflict with food supply. But in recent years a new idea has emerged which is wrapped-up in similar win-win rhetoric – that of “biochar”.
Biochar is a form of charcoal created by decomposing organic material. It’s claimed that biochar can store carbon in the long-term, improve soil health and crop fertility, create bioenergy and provide a cost-effective disposal route for organic wastes.

Monday 6th September 2010
The famous five
Mike Lean

We all know what we SHOULD be eating -- so why are most Scots still ignoring the public health messages about diet and nutrition?
The nutritional arguments for 5-a-day (or more) are rock-solid. People who do eat 5 or more portions of fruit and veg have better health on all fronts (less heart disease, fewer strokes, less diabetes, fewer cancers) and live longer and happier lives. Vitamin C, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, fibre and potassium all provide health benefits with virtually no down-side. And the argument also holds true for Scottish Agriculture: we could increase ten-fold our production of high-quality fruits and vegetables - now limited mainly to berries, root veg and broccoli - as our land and climate are ideal for many others (apples, plums, onions, beans, and salad greenhouse vegetables using waste heat from all those distilleries - there is almost no end!).

Monday 2nd August 2010
Swimming through treacle
Richard Bowman

Technology is always getting smaller; the dream of micro-machines no bigger than a human hair is fast becoming a reality. But how do you move around when youre that tiny? And how does the world feel? Learning to swim through water which seems as thick as treacle is just one of the challenges that face scientists and engineers as they try to shrink technology to millionths of a metre. Nature has already solved many of these problems, and we will look at some of the biological micro-machines that our technology would like to copy.

Monday 7th June 2010
Caveworld: a new look at evolution
Keith Skene

Keith presents a completely new way of understanding evolution. He starts with energy, and explores how this offers a much better way of approaching the questions of how and why life came about than does the biology of Darwinism or the chemistry of neo-Darwinism.

Monday 10th May 2010
Life on a dynamic Earth can be dangerous
Stuart K Monro, Scientific Director, Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Think Haiti, the Indonesian Tsunami and the eruption of Mount St Helens. Were moving away from America at the rate our fingernails grow but these large-scale movements of slabs of the Earth can cause major hazards affecting people locally AND globally. Earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruptions have all happened in the past and will happen again in the future – the past is the key to the future.

Monday 12th April 2010
The number matrix is everywhere
Matt Parker

You were forced to learn maths at school, but where have all of those numbers gone now? Matt Parker will show you the matrix of numbers all around us that make our modern lives possible. From rescuing your lost words in text messages to protecting your Facebook profile, this highly engaging session will open your eyes to the ubiquitous sea of numbers we all live in.

Monday 1st March 2010
Sex, suits and science
Anne Glover

Is there a problem for women in science? What’s the scale of it? And what’s more, why should we care? As science and technology play an increasing part in all our lives, she’ll examine whether we can afford to remain ignorant about whats happening to women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) as well as analysing ideas such as positive discrimination, affirmative action and mentoring - even who looks after the kids! 

Monday 1st February 2010
Quantum freaks of physics
Nic Harrigan, Imperial College London

The smaller things get, the weirder they become. Atoms and their kin act in ways that simply defy belief, and have baffled the greatest scientists for a hundred years. Definitely one that will entertain young and old so step right up to witness the most SHOCKING TRUTHS known to modern science. SWOON as you witness the appalling and freakish behaviours of microscopic entities known as atoms. GASP as you are shown how these atomic propensities are being used to build strange new devices, such as intriguingly powerful machines known as quantum computers. For ONE NIGHT ONLY the secrets of the quantum universe will be boldly tamed and presented to you. Secrets that obstinately challenge the sanity and decency of our civilized society.

Monday 7th December 2007
Lifestyle drugs
Rod Flower

We are all accustomed to taking medicines (drugs) when we are sick, but many of us take them even when we are healthy – to control our fertility, improve our looks or just get high for example. Drugs taken for these purposes are called lifestyle drugs. People have always used drugs in this way but the advent of more potent agents coupled with the ease of access to information about their effects, exposure to direct-to-consumer advertising and ready availability from internet pharmacies has created a massive surge in interest from both consumers and the pharmaceutical industry. It has also raised fundamental questions about what we mean by health and well-being. What is normal health and what exactly is a disease? Should we self-diagnose our illnesses and treat ourselves? Should the NHS pay? How do we assess the risks of taking these drugs when compared to normal medicines and so on.

Monday 2nd November 2007
Sex, suits and science.
Anne Glover (with Sheila Rowan and Mandy MacLean)

Is there a problem for women in science? What’s the scale of it? And what’s more, why should we care? As science and technology play an increasing part in all our lives, shell examine whether we can afford to remain ignorant about what’s happening to women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) as well as analysing ideas such as positive discrimination, affirmative action and mentoring – even who looks after the kids!

Monday 5th October 2007
MRSA - the superbug crunch
Anthony Coates, St Georges, University of London

Can the human species survive the emergence of MRSA and superbugs which are resistant to our antibiotics? What are the origins of antibiotic resistance and the current crisis and what does the future hold?

Monday 7th September 2007
Are biofuels for rich or poor?
James Smith

Seemingly in the blink of a policymaker’s eye biofuels have shifted from being seen as an innovation that could help deal with problems associated with global warming, global poverty and global energy insecurity, to becoming a crime against humanity according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. While it is not unusual for contrary and contested positions to develop over the emergence of new technologies, it is unusual for such a rapid, complete about face to occur. Reasons behind this include the failure of policy, a lack of research, and ultimately and most importantly the sheer complexity of biofuels as a technology that knits together multiple, increasingly globalised systems that we do not fully understand. This presentation will explore the appeal of biofuels as a multilevel solution and also analyse our failures to understand them as a possible catalyst for the reconfiguring the relationships, feed-backs and trade-offs between social, environmental, developmental and economic systems in ways that might not be in all our best interests.

Monday 3rd August 2007
Global educational outreach in the GooYouWiki-World
Harry Kroto, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida State University

For both politicians and publics, the present level of ignorance about Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) is a recipe for disaster - but how do we strike a balance between the humanitarian possibilities of SET and the dangers of new technologies?
One way is through initiatives like Vega, which streams science lectures, interviews, discussions and other communications, and the new GEOSET site. These sites use the power of the Internet to break down barriers between scientists and the publics, particularly with young people, the decision-makers of the future. These efforts have triggered a worldwide reaction from teachers of the "GooYouWiki-World" generation who can use these methods to combat ignorance cheaply.

Monday 1st June 2007
The forensic DNA database
Graeme Laurie, University of Edinburgh

DNA profiling is an increasingly valuable tool in the detection and prosecution of criminal offenders, and the powers of the police in England and Wales to take DNA are wider than those in any other country. DNA can be taken, without consent, from any person arrested for a recordable offence (mostly offences that can lead to a prison sentence). However, the collection and storage of DNA by the police, and access to the resulting DNA database, raise a number of ethical issues. Are current police powers to take and use bioinformation powers that can affect the liberty and privacy of innocent people justified by the need to fight crime?

Monday 11th May 2007
How to get your science on television
Andrew Thompson, BBC

Why are some science subjects covered endlessly on television (dinosaurs, string theory) while others barely get a look in (chemistry)? Why do the commissioning executives who run the channels get so excited about formats and presenters? Do you feel television science is dumbed-down? Do you want your pet subject covered more in the media?
To scientists working outside the media, it must all seem a bit random and a closed shop. But there are a lot of reasons why science on television has evolved the way it has. New channels have brought increasing audience fragmentation; computers and television are merging and there is a constant need to keep an eye on what younger viewers like to watch.  It’s not all bad news. Although it is much harder to get hard-core science on BBC 1, channels such as BBC 4 offer many new niches for scientists.

Monday 6th April 2007
The new evolution: the new medicine
Frank Ryan, Sheffield University

Most people are familiar with Darwin’s concept of natural selection, which relies on mechanisms of genetic change (variation) for it to work. Since the 1930s people have assumed that the only significant mechanism for such genetic change is random mutation, and this is still widely taught even today. In fact we now know that natural selection relies on a diversity of very powerful genomic forces which, together with mutation, underpin the modern understanding of evolution. It is important to grasp that the various genomic forces of evolution are the same genetic