Research Talks

All members of Darwin are encouraged to present their research at informal seminars held on Tuesdays and Thursdays during term. Everyone is welcome, whatever your degree or discipline.

Darwin members pick up lunch from 12:00, taking it into the Richard King Room (on the left at the top of the stairs leading to the dining hall) or 1 Newnham Terrace (straight through at the far end of the dining hall). Wine is served. Non-Darwin members are welcome to attend, although lunch is only available to guests of members. The talk begins at about 1:15 and lasts for about 20 minutes and is followed by questions over coffee. We adjourn at 2:00pm at the latest.

Upcoming Talks

Darwin Lunchtime Talks will recommence next term and the schedule posted here.

Past Research Talks

Thursday 21 November 2019
Lucy MacGregor - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

I am interested in how we are able to successfully understand each other during conversation, in particular when so many of the words we use have multiple meanings. How do listeners determine which meaning of an ambiguous word like rock is intended by a speaker? I will talk about research in which I have used recordings of brain activity (mainly magneto- and electro-encephalography) and behavioural measures to explore the neuro-cognitive mechanisms that support successful speech comprehension in the face of such semantic ambiguity.

Tuesday 19 November 2019
Jacob Bruggeman

Sigurd F. Olson of Minnesota was one of the foremost American environmentalists in the 20th century. Olson served as vice president and president of the Wilderness Society, as a member and president of the of National Parks Association’s board of trustees, and remains the only individual to have received each of the highest honors from the Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League, Wilderness Society, and National Wildlife Federation—and the John Burroughs medal for nature writing. Olson’s involvement in the conservation movement, however, was guided by an “environmental ethic” firmly rooted in regional identity, especially Minnesota’s history and that of the French “voyageurs” in the Quetico-Superior wilderness. Olson thought this region’s historical and natural heritage was so precious that he devoted his life to protecting and writing about it, producing several bestselling volumes and countless essays on the region’s history and wilderness. More than his conservation activism, it was these writings that marshalled public support for wilderness protection. In reemphasizing the centrality of regional identity in Olson’s writings, I resituate his environmental ethic in the growing scholarship on Midwestern history and argue that its popular appeal was made possible by its cultivation of an accessible, reasonably coherent concept of the region’s environmental and cultural history. By way of conclusion, I will attempt to connect the regional rootedness of Olson’s environmental ethic with the contemporary climate crisis.

Thursday 14 November 2019
Maude E Phipps, Monash University Malaysia

The indigenous populations Orang Asli (OA) of Peninsular Malaysia are divided into three major communities or tribes, namely the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay. These tribes can be further divided into further sub-tribes based on unique linguistic, morphological and cultural characteristics. Many of these communities live in rural and forest fringes whilst the rest live in urban areas. Despite modernization, some groups such as Mah Meri, Temiar and Jakun still observe unique cultural practices including rituals music, dance, animism, herbalism and spiritual rituals. Previously, hunter gathering, fishing and swiddening were main activities but rapid development in recent years have caused many changes. Throughout the centuries, numerous anthropological and linguistic investigations have informed our knowledge about these populations but genetic histories of these populations remained obscure. We investigated the genomics of these 3 major groups and discovered that although all OA groups are genetically closest to East Asian (EA) populations, they are substantially distinct. Evidence indicates that these peoples are the descendants of the earliest human migrations out of Africa into South East Asia. Genetic affinity between Andamanese and Malaysian Negritos suggest an ancient link. Formal admixture tests provided evidence of gene flow between Austro-Asiatic speaking OAs and populations from South East Asia and South China suggesting a widespread presence of these people in SEA before the Austronesian expansion. Estimates indicate OAs diverged from East Asians probably during the late Pleistocene (14.5 to 8 YBP). The continuum in divergence time from Negritos to Senoi and Proto-Malay in combination with ancestral markers provides evidences of multiple waves of migration into SEA starting with the first Out-of-Africa dispersals followed by Early-train and subsequent Austronesian expansions. We also investigated the effects of socio-demographic change and urbanization on the cardio-metabolic risks and found variable prevalence of obesity, cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes in various tribes.

Tuesday 12 November 2019
Dr Augusto Lopez-Claros, the World Bank Group

Gender discrimination is often seen from a human rights perspective; it is a violation of women’s basic human rights, as embedded in the Universal Declaration, the UN Charter and other such founding documents. However, there is overwhelming evidence that restrictions and various forms of discrimination against women are also bad economics. They undermine the talent pool available to the private sector, they distort power relationships within the family and lead to inefficiencies in the use of resources. They contribute to create an environment in which women, de facto, are second class citizens, with fewer options than men, lower quality jobs, lower pay, often the victims of various forms of violence, literally from the cradle to the grave. They are also not fully politically empowered and have scant presence in the corridors of power, whether as finance ministers, central bank governors, prime ministers or on the boards of leading corporations. Why is gender inequality so pervasive? Where does it come from? Does it have cultural and religious roots? And what are the sorts of policies and values that will deliver a world in which being born a boy or a girl is no longer a measure of the likelihood of developing one’s human potential? A look at some of these and other such difficult questions

Thursday 7 November 2019
Isobel Rowell

Ice cores hold valuable information about Earth's past climate, which help us to better understand climate processes on long timescales and ultimately inform and refine future projections of climate. I'm part of the WACSWAIN ice core project. WACSWAIN is interested in the Last Interglacial period (~113,000 years ago) when the Earth was around 2 degrees C warmer and sea levels several metres higher than today. This represents an interesting target of investigation; to understand what led to this sea level rise e.g. whether or not the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed or retreated and by how much, would help us to make better predictions about potential sea level rise as a result of anthropogenic climate change. My research looks at the last glacial cycle (115,000 years ago to present) and I am hoping to pick apart how the climate varied across Antarctica during this time. My work will include a trip to the West Antarctic island, Sherman Island, in January 2020, where I will make use of the British Antarctic Survey's Rapid Access Isotope Drill, and I will drill ice down to 420m in just a few days.

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