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YorkTalks 2016

YorkTalks 2016 took place on Wednesday 6 January at the National Science Learning Centre.

Over 400 guests joined us for a packed day of talks on topics ranging from the medieval roots of the House of Commons to the power of maths in fighting viral infections.

Talk summaries and videos

Royal chapel to Commons chamber

Historian John Cooper and art historian Tim Ayers join forces to trace the medieval roots of the modern House of Commons.

Part detective story, part high-tech digital thriller, the two men chart how the splendid royal chapel of St Stephen was converted to become the House of Commons, and how this hot, cramped and crowded space shaped the nature of political debate for centuries to come.

Faithful citizens: Dissent and the making of democracy in the age of revolution

British Academy Fellowship holder, Emma Major, paints a vivid portrait of the poet, teacher and pamphleteer, Anna Barbauld.

Emma explores how this member of an influential Dissenting community helped shape modern ideas of democracy, citizenship and human rights during the turbulent years of the French Revolution.

Barbauld’s ideas and arguments – she predicted the rise of America and decline of the British Empire – are shown to be as powerful and relevant today as they were more than 200 years ago when she campaigned for the abolition of slavery, condemned an unjust war, and argued for full citizenship rights for Dissenters.

Every building tells a story

When archaeologist and medieval Guildhall specialist Kate Giles was asked to do a historical stock take by William Shakespeare’s old school at Stratford-upon-Avon, it marked the start of a remarkable journey.

An interdisciplinary and collaborative project, the research combines cutting edge building surveys, scientific dating and historical research with the latest digital 3D modeling. The work has inspired a £1.4 million Heritage Lottery Funded project opening up access to the Guildhall complex, and enabling a distinctive part of Shakespeare’s cultural legacy to be better understood, interpreted and conserved for future generations.

The bespoke composer

A musical collaboration between composer Ambrose Field and a team of acoustic engineers is turning the conventional approach to musical composition on its head.

The result is music that is bespoke to the space in which it will be performed. Ambrose shows how this novel method has evolved and how he creates music that is both distinctive and in harmony with its environment. Through contemporary music and acoustic science, his piece 'Architexture II' re-creates the sounds of a space lost to history.

Taking on the tobacco giants

When Kamran Siddiqi came to Britain to become a clinician specialising in chest diseases, he still had a strong desire to help the poor in his native Pakistan. Returning home he quickly realised he could do more good as a research scientist in Britain than as a physician in Islamabad.

He tells us about his pioneering work to improve the life chances of TB sufferers by effective anti-tobacco control measures, which have been tested and implemented in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. It is a story of personal and intellectual dedication and shows how work here in York is transforming healthcare in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Sleep talk

Lisa Henderson and her team of cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in the development of our vocabulary.

With one of the most sophisticated sleep labs in the country here at York, Lisa and her colleagues have been able to show how certain sleep patterns in young children facilitate the transfer of information from a temporary to a more permanent storage area in the brain.

Parents will be especially interested in what this could mean for the education of their children and the implications for those children who are vocabulary rich and those who are vocabulary poor.

Identifying events driving dementia

Neuroscientist Sean Sweeney explains the groundbreaking work he and his team are carrying out to investigate the role specific cellular events play in the development of a type of early onset dementia.

It is very likely that proteins identified, such as POSH, hold keys to the onset of the disease. This work sets the platform needed to build early warning systems for its detection and eventual treatment.

EU migrant benefit cuts: The pillory, the precipice and the slippery slope

With EU migrants at the top of the political agenda, Charlotte O’Brien reveals the painful, human tragedy behind the headlines and the Government’s clampdown on so-called benefit tourists.

A specialist in European law and a frontline advocate for human rights, Charlotte has seen first-hand what the reality is like for people who come to Britain in search of work and a better life. She makes a powerful case that the British government is in breach of its legal and humanitarian obligations and that those most affected by the cuts are women and children. The bigger tragedy, she says, is that so few people are speaking out.

This lecture was given at YorkTalks 2016. Styled on the highly successful TED Talks lecture series, YorkTalks features short, accessible 15-minute presentations on some of our most innovative and thought-provoking research.

Waging peace: in search of lasting agreements

Separatist conflicts since the end of the Cold War have produced casualties in the millions. In Bosnia alone it is estimated that more than 97,000 people lost their lives in three years of bloodletting. Most of the victims were civilians.

Such statistics make it clear that understanding how to make peace has never been more vital. Conflict expert Nina Caspersen draws on her study of close to 20 peace agreements around the world – from Mindanao to the Middle East – to provide negotiators with insights into the essential ingredients of a good peace agreement, what to avoid, and what happens when you get it wrong.

The route to a more equal society

Political philosopher Martin O’Neill investigates the idea that market reforms could be used to encourage a more equal distribution of economic power and rewards.

He shows how debate about the idea of ‘predistribution’ connects to the neglected work of the Nobel prize-winning economist James Meade, who championed the idea of what he called a ‘property-owning democracy’.

Meade's theory was conceived as a stage in the development of social democracy beyond the welfare state and has relevance for today’s political debates about creating a more equal and just society.

We regret to announce that the train…

Government predictions that the multi-billion pound HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the North of England will be delivered on time and provide value for money are scrutinised by mathematical economist Jacco Thijssen.

Drawing on the Government’s own data and forecasts, he has developed a bespoke mathematical model which shows it is unlikely there will be a good time to start the project in the next decade.

This is a fascinating insight into the world of applied mathematics and innovative research which is far in advance of models currently being used in industry and government.

The air we breathe

The European Union decision to cut taxes on diesel cars in the 1990s has had unintended consequences for tens of thousands of people whose lives have been cut short by engine emissions of nitrogen dioxide.

Atmospheric chemist Ally Lewis reveals how our political leaders have known about this danger for years but have failed to act.

Sophisticated monitoring equipment placed by Ally and his team on top of the BT Tower in London has showed that emissions from cars have persistently been higher than estimates from motor manufacturers, including VW.

From gribble to stubble

After running a commercial fishing boat from the Isle of Wight and working in the boatyards of Southern California, Simon McQueen-Mason has spent most of his academic career developing ways to produce sustainable bio-replacements for petroleum in the fuel and chemical sectors.

One such alternative, fittingly, involves the gribble, a marine animal that eats holes in wooden boats.

But he and his team at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products are also making remarkable discoveries that could enable rice producers in South East Asia to transform the quality of air in their neighbourhoods and make a significant contribution to cutting global carbon emissions. The secret lies not only with the gribble, but also in the stubble.

Mathematics and the fight against viral infections

Reidun Twarock shows how the power of mathematical modeling came to the aid of biologists attempting to understand how viruses are constructed.

Reidun, her multidisciplinary team and their collaborators at the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology - in particular Peter Stockley - have “initiated a paradigm shift in our understanding of virus assembly.”

Their work opens up the possibility of novel strategies for antiviral therapy. This cutting edge research is revealing new insights into seemingly intractable problems and shows what can be achieved when different disciplines pool their talents.

A quantum leap for York

Having served his time at the forefront of the information technology industry, Tim Spiller is ideally placed to help York play a leading role in the creation of the £120m national network of Quantum Technology Hubs.

He explains how the main focus of the York Hub is secure communications, with emphasis on Quantum Key Distribution - one of the first quantum information technologies with market potential.

The Hub aims for breakthroughs in affordability and integration that will lead to widespread use of the technology, and showcases a new kind of partnership between academic research and leading industrialists.