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The very first YorkTalks illuminated the work of our Anniversary Professors, all of whom are leading edge academics appointed in 2013 to mark York’s 50th year.

The role of the rarest element on earth in cancer treatments, book burning as a form of censorship and the benefits of subjecting politicians and their decisions to philosophical scrutiny were just some of the research topics that came under the spotlight in our inspiring public showcase on 8 January 2014.

The talks

The Crisis of UK Institutions

A quick fire tour of the MPs expenses scandal, global financial meltdown, bankers’ bonuses, police corruption and incompetence, and scandals in the NHS. Politics Professor Martin Smith warns these institutions must change their habits and evolve if they are to survive in a more open society where technology makes keeping secrets all but impossible. ‘When will they ever learn?’ is the question at the core of his engaging talk. 

Illuminating the machines of life

Recent revolutions in technology are enabling researchers to penetrate into the basic structure of life. Physicist, Professor Mark Leake, takes us down the microscope and deep, deep into the nano-world of the tiny natural machines that are the fundamental components of all living things. Stunning visuals, humbling lessons, and a realisation that the combined talents of biologists and physicists can together provide a new understanding of what makes us tick.

Understanding linguistic complexity

Languages spoken by of some of the world’s most remote communities – from the rainforests of Papua New Guinea to the mountains of Daghestan – are rich and complex. Linguistics Professor Dunstan Brown and his colleagues are mapping and cataloguing the structure of these languages, some of which are in danger of becoming extinct.

Of Algae and Algebra

Mathematician Professor Martin Bees has joined forces with physicists and plant scientists to analyse the strange swimming patterns of algae in a way that could transform the way biofuel is produced, making it more efficient, and thus providing another alternative for motorists at the fuel pump.

Interactions in environmental history

  • Department of History

Environmental historian Professor David Moon  and his team are changing the way we look at the environment and human interaction with it in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He presents thought-provoking ideas on the history of the Gulag, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and industrial pollution at the world’s largest fresh water lake.

Meeting Darwin’s last challenge

Linguistics Professor Giuseppe Longobardi is dedicated to solving the riddle of what has become known as Darwin’s last great challenge – to map out the evolution of languages to see if it mirrors the genetic map of the evolution of mankind. Working with computer scientists and geneticists from across Europe,  he is breaking totally new ground in his field. 

Microbial evolution – faster than you think

  • Michael Brockhurst
  • Department of Biology 

The evolutionary biologist Professor Michael Brockhurst explains how high-dose intravenous antibiotics are increasing the density of pathogens in the lung, rather than reducing them, with damaging effects on the patient. He makes a plea for a new ‘restorative ecology’ that could resolve this issue and save the lives of countless children in the developing world using a cheap, effective basic microbiology set up.

Journeys in Memorylands

Insights by cultural anthropologist, Professor Sharon McDonald into what she dubs the ‘memory phenomenon’ have set the agenda for the study of the heritage industry and modern museums in Europe today. Her talk will range far and wide, from China to Islam and back to York seeking alternative perspectives on how to present our heritage.  

Removing roadblocks to replication

  • Peter McGlynn
  • Department of Biology 

Biology Professor Peter McGlynn reveals how collisions in our genetic replication ‘machinery’ occur much more frequently than previously thought, with potentially fatal consequences both for the cell, and its ‘host’ – humans. Fundamental research into the building blocks of life is shedding new light on the origin of tumours that will ultimately benefit scientists and clinicians in the fight against cancer. 

The rejection of violence in 18th century philosophy

Why does preparation for war seem to take precedence over the prevention of conflict?  Philosopher, Professor Catherine Wilson, makes a compelling case for subjecting our political and military leaders to rigorous inquiry before a decision to go to war is made. She argues that the amount of pain, death, and psychological suffering would be dramatically reduced, saving significant sums of public money for other more worthwhile purposes. 

The Shape of Things to Come

Physicist Andrei Andreyev explores the inner secrets of exotic nuclei revealing how our understanding of the basic structure of the universe is helping fellow scientists develop advanced cancer treatments and safer methods of producing nuclear energy.

Harnessing Light

Physics Professor Thomas Krauss is helping find more efficient ways of harnessing light to power the information society, from data centres to laptops; and how to use the sun to produce solar-fuel. He looks closely into the power of light, showing how it can be collected in the smallest of cavities, enabling scientists to manipulate it in ways that were unimaginable in the past. 

Sacred Text

  • Brian Cummings
  • Department of English and Related Literature

The printed word has provoked extreme reactions down the ages from violent censorship by church and state, to the veneration of gospels and bibles. English Professor Brian Cummings takes us on a stimulating tour of the power of the book beginning with tablets of stone and ending with electronic tablets.

The computerised crystal ball

Computer Science Professor Peter Cowling knows how to design some of the world’s most popular and challenging video games. Here he shows how a profound understanding of the decision making process – using Monte Carlo Tree research – is changing the way games are designed, how public resources are allocated to improve the nation’s infrastructure, and how the games industry has lessons and applications that can improve health care, scientific knowledge and social wellbeing.