York Talks Session Four

3.45pm, Berrick Saul building

Defusing an explosive issue – Most of us are all too familiar with seeing disturbing images of how war can affect the lives of those caught up in the middle of a conflict. But the toxic legacy of munitions, whether used in training or in the heat of battle, is something that is often hidden from view. Biologist Neil Bruce tells us how his work with agronomists at the US Department of Defense has led to the development of a novel grass species that will not only eat the harmful explosive residues, but also help remove toxicity from the soil. Next year he will deploy nature’s secret weapon to military training sites in the States – which, if successful, could help to clean up an area the size of England that is currently contaminated.  

Between the sea and the sky – Atmospheric chemist Lucy Carpenter’s investigation into the complex relationship between the troposphere and the thin surface of the oceans is overturning accepted theories about the way iodine and ozone combine to have a cooling effect on the climate; her work on the stratosphere is also breaking new ground in our understanding of ozone depletion and repair. Lucy is a key adviser to the Montreal Protocol signatories, and her work has helped the monitoring and protection of the protective ozone layer around the earth. 

Poverty and neglect – fighting a deadly disease – While celebrities and the media are focusing on the horror of the Ebola outbreak, many more people are dying as a result of the 17 so-called ‘neglected tropical diseases’ which goes largely unreported.  Leading immunologist Paul Kaye has spent a lifetime battling with one these diseases - Leishmaniasis. He tells us how he and his team are bringing new technologies to bear in the fight against leishmaniasis, and the progress they are making in developing the first vaccine for this disease, which, if successful, could transform the life chances of millions.

Fusion energy – a question of time – Director of York’s Plasma Institute, physicist Howard Wilson, probes into the history and science of fusion energy and describes some of the challenges that must be addressed in the quest to harness the fundamental power source of our Sun. Howard argues that most of the remaining scientific and engineering issues surrounding fusion are likely to be solved on ITER - the largest international experimental facility on earth, now under construction in France. With the political will and appropriate funding, fusion power to the grid could follow soon after the pioneering experiments on ITER

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