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

Tuesday 23 April 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Stephanie Diepeveen, Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge

Decolonising the university is a growing concern in the social sciences. It is no longer acceptable to assume that Western theories and histories are sufficient for making sense of the world –all the more clear as western democracies are being destabilised by forms of populism, fake news, even Brexit. This paper examines the evidence for recent change in the use of Western-centred epistemological concepts and practices with regards to published scholarship on the politics of Africa. Political scholars recognise that a constrained higher education sector and scholarly conventions limit theory generation from Africa, but little is known about efforts to navigate and generate new ideas and theoretical approaches from the continent. This paper aims to build an evidence base for moves to decolonising knowledge production through a systematic review of theoretical conventions in published scholarship. It poses and addresses the questions: How is theory being engaged in the study of the politics of Africa? To what extent does the study of the politics of Africa inform theory generation?

Dr Stephanie Diepeveen is a Research Associate and Deputy Director in Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights, and a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Darwin College. Stephanie’s research explores the intersections of forms of power and digital technology, beginning from an empirical lens in East Africa.

Thursday 25 April 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Shovan Dutta (Physics Department, Cambridge)

In a 3D world, all fundamental particles fall into one of two categories: those that behave like photons which make up light, and those that behave like electrons which make up matter. However, more exotic particles can arise in 2D, called anyons, which could form the hardware of future quantum computers, thanks to their fractional exchange statistics. Directly observing anyons is a major challenge of contemporary physics. In this talk, I will present a newly-developed protocol for preparing anyons in an optical cavity built by carefully aligning a set of high-quality mirrors. I will explain how one can drive the cavity with lasers to inject photons one by one, building up a “fractional quantum Hall” state. Additional lasers are used to create anyonic “hole” excitations and move them around one another. The resulting phases are measured by interferometry. I will discuss the challenges of implementing the protocol by analyzing experimental constraints.

Tuesday 30 April 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
David Durand-Delacre, Department of Geography

How we categorise migrants matters. The different implications of labelling for ‘political refugees’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘economic migrant’ or ‘illegal alien’ are important because each label conditions the rights and conditions of the people designated. Since the mid-1980s, the ‘climate migrant’ label has gained traction among experts in academia, the press and policy-making circles. I begin by presenting the debate between ‘maximalism’ – which seeks to quantify climate-induced migratory flows and identify ‘climate migrants’ – and ‘minimalism’, which disputes the usefulness of the ‘climate migrant’ label on analytical and practical grounds. This leaves us with a tension. On the one hand, minimalism has made a convincing case for a nuanced understanding of the environment as one driver of mobility among many. On the other, the ‘climate migrant’ label retains significant appeal, and we must still contend with the inevitability of labelling, which is inherently reductive. As a potential way out of this bind, I argue that a critical study of ‘climate migrants’ should focus both on how the label is made – that is the discursive practices used to conceptualise, contest and deploy it for policy purposes – but also on how the label circulates, asking questions such as: how does it spread? How does it evolve in the process? What facilitates or hinders its movement? Why and how does the label ‘stick’ to certain people and not to others? I end with some suggestions for how we may begin to answer these questions, drawing in particular on multi-sited ethnography.

David Durand-Delacre is a 1st year PhD student in the Geography Department.

Thursday 2 May 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Souvik Roy (Chemistry Department, Cambridge)

Molecular hydrogen is the ultimate clean fuel due to its extremely high energy density and its clean combustion to water. However, the challenge lies to produce it sustainably from water, which requires catalysts to lower the kinetic energy barrier. Molecular catalysts
based on non-precious metals fascinates synthetic chemists the most due to their tunability which allows us to tailor the structure and control their properties. However, molecular catalysts are somewhat disadvantaged by practical consideration because they often function in homogeneous solution and display limited
long-term stability. Having an effective scaffold to mount the catalyst on, representing 'heterogenisation' of the molecule, is a key part of building a practical system that brings together the benefits
of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis.
Metal-organic framework, a type of crystalline material composed of metal clusters connected by organic linkers, offers a step further by allowing us to build tunable three-dimensional architecture by using molecules as the building blocks. In this talk, I will explore how the
metal-organic framework enables us to transfer the chemistry of molecular catalysts into a solid material while still enjoying the benefits of heterogenous catalysis.

Tuesday 7 May 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Stephanie Metzger, Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

World energy demand is rising year by year as populations increase and emerging economies continue their rapid expansion. Coal, historically a major source of energy, has continued to remain a major player in the power mix despite concerns about its greenhouse emissions and effects on global climate change. While western countries have begun to move away from coal, developing countries such as China and India are driving demand on international coal markets and increasing their use of coal for electricity generation. Balancing the often competing interests of sustainability and economic development is a difficult policy question, with political, economic, and technological factors to consider.

Stephanie is pursuing an MPhil in Public Policy. Her independent research focuses on energy and technology policy, especially in developing countries.

Thursday 9 May 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Adrian Weller (Machine Learning Group, Cambridge)

Algorithmic systems are increasingly deployed in ways that affect millions of lives. How can we be sure that we can trust them? We’ll discuss this theme and describe technical work on effective measures of trustworthiness, including fairness, transparency and privacy, which we should require in order to ensure beneficial outcomes for society.

Tuesday 14 May 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Alev Sen, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge

In 2013, the four UK health departments launched a collaborative UK Strategy for Rare Diseases, which included outlining a shared vision ‘to ensure no one gets left behind just because they have a rare disease’ (Department of Health, 2013). At the time, this formal recognition of concerns about equity and social justice in UK healthcare for patients with rare diseases was heralded as a ‘landmark’ by campaigners. Since then, whilst some changes have been welcomed as improvements, the persistence of problems, such as delays in diagnosis, restricted funding of medicines, and patchy local provision, remain on the agenda. This talk will explore the formation and impact of campaigning on rare diseases in contemporary UK healthcare. Questions considered will include: How are ‘rare diseases’ defined and constituted? And what forms of systematic disadvantage are they associated with? Rare diseases, as an emergent site of activism, may illuminate new and pressing factors effecting the distribution of healthcare in the UK today.

Alev Sen is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

Thursday 16 May 2019
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Dr Chrispin Chaguza (Wellcome Sanger Institute, Cambridge)

Bacterial evolution is a never-ending process and such innovation can lead to adaptation to clinical interventions such as antibiotics and vaccines thereby making them less effective. Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) is a human-adapted opportunistic pathogen once assigned the moniker “Captain of the men of death” by Sir William Osler because of its high death toll globally. Despite significant reduction of the invasive pneumococcal diseases (IPD) over the last two decades due to the introduction of effective higher-valent pneumococcal vaccines (PCVs), IPDs continue to kill hundreds of thousands of people globally. In this talk, I will describe colonisation dynamics, genomic diversity and evolution of the pneumococcus during persistent colonisation episodes in infants from a low-income and tropical Sub Saharan African setting with high carriage and disease burden during the first year of life.

Past Research Talks

Thursday 14 March 2019
Dr Jotis Baronas (Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge)

The study of rivers offers important insights into why our planet looks the way it does. The interaction of rocks with water shapes landscapes, supplies nutrients to ecosystems, and consumes atmospheric CO2. The relative stability of Earth’s climate over the past 500 million years has allowed life to flourish, and is controlled by a delicate and complex balance between tectonics, rock weathering, and the evolution of life. It is, however, punctuated by large climatic perturbations that have typically resulted in mass extinctions.

River catchments integrating over large continental areas allow us to assess the net effects of water-rock interaction on a globally significant scale. By studying world's large rivers we can therefore better understand and quantify the global importance of rock weathering and its impact on Earth's climate. However, representative sampling of large rivers is non-trivial and requires advanced techniques. I will demonstrate some state of the art techniques employed by the Cambridge rivers research group, as well as how our research in Southeast Asia is helping shed light on the complex controls on the global climate.

Tuesday 5 March 2019
Jezebel Mansell

Sophie Calle is known for her works based around ritual (_Le Régime chromatique_ (1997), _Rituel d’anniversaire_ (1980-1993)) and absent others (_L’Hôtel_ (1981), _Le Carnet d’adresses_ (1983)). Most recently, her work has turned to the death of her father (_Beau doublé, Monsieur le marquis!_ (2017)) and the death of her cat, Souris (_Souris Calle_ (2018)), but the pullulation of exhibitions emerging in the wake of Calle’s mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer has so far been unparalleled.

My talk will examine Calle’s ongoing preoccupation with her mother’s death, looking particularly at _Rachel, Monique…_ (2017) which is the physical embodiment of the many exhibitions stemming from the final months of her mother’s life, and the aftermath of her death. It considers the extent to which the daughter’s portrayal of her mother might be doomed to failure, or even to be read as an erasure in itself. It will suggest that Calle is faced with the paradox inherent in the attempt to capture her mother’s essence, impossible to ‘solidify’, and showing itself only through ‘the flux of action and speech’ (Arendt 1998: 181). It looks at how Calle acknowledges this impossibility within her work, confronting and highlighting the difficulty of representing the other, rather than reaching towards fixed meaning and closure.

Thursday 28 February 2019
Ms Erin Cullen (Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge)

Darwin famously referred to the origin of flowering plants (angiosperms) as an 'abominable mystery'. Flowering plants are the most diverse group of land plants, and the ability to vary floral traits has been key to their success. One such floral innovation is the nectar spur (a tubular outgrowth of the petal which may contain nectar). Nectar spurs protect nectar from the environment and also enhance pollinator specificity, pollination efficiency and reproductive success. Despite their ecological importance, much is still unknown about the development and morphogenesis of spurs as there are no conventional model plant species which possess a nectar spur.

This project aims to probe the morphological and molecular basis of nectar spur outgrowth. To understand the basis of nectar spur outgrowth, a species which possesses a nectar spur (Linaria vulgaris) was compared to a closely related species which does not (Antirrhinum majus). A comparative transcriptome (the sum of all of the genes which are expressed by cells at that time point) was performed in order to give a global view of the genes involved in spur development and produce new candidate genes which may be involved in spur outgrowth in Linaria. Nectar spur length can be highly variable. Control of variation in nectar spur length was also investigated, focusing on two closely related species which have extremely long and short spurs respectively. A morphological characterisation was undertaken (recording cell number and cell length across a range of developmental stages) to determine whether the difference in spur length between the species is due to cell expansion or cell division. We found that primarily cell number and therefore cell division drives an increase in spur length in Linaria. This contrasts with previous studies in Aquilegia which have found that variation of nectar spur length is due to directed cell expansion over a longer timeframe. These data suggest that spurs may have evolved in different systems by disparate mechanisms.

Tuesday 26 February 2019
Thomas Maguire

Tanzania’s political, economic and social development has been the focus of numerous studies by both indigenous and foreign scholars. Nevertheless, with the exception of key incidents such as the Zanzibar Revolution and Tanganyika Rifles Mutiny of January 1964, the development of the country’s security sector in the context of state-building either side of independence is not well understood. Neither is the manner in which Tanzania’s security sector interacted with the international community during this period, whether it be the former British colonial power or other states such as Israel, the US, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, China, the Soviet Union and Cuba. This reflects a wider imbalance in Intelligence Studies towards Anglo-American and Western-centric research.

Drawing on overseas archives from the United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Germany, memoirs by former Tanzanian and Stasi officers, and interviews with former officers of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, more popularly MI6) and Security Service (MI5), this talk reveals that significant change occurred in Tanzania’s increasingly politicised and unstable security sector from independence in 1961. Mirroring more neighbouring Uganda than Kenya, Britain lost its primary security assistance role, firstly to Israel, then to a shifting consortium of the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, China and Cuba from the 1960s through to the end of the Cold War.

Dr Thomas Maguire is a Junior Research Fellow at Darwin College and the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge, where he completed his PhD in 2015, and a Teaching Fellow in the Intelligence and International Security Research Group at the Department of War Studies, King's College London. Tom is also a co-convenor of the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, teaches on the Cambridge Security Initiative’s International Security and Intelligence (ISI) specialist short-course, and was the John Garnett Visiting Fellow at the Whitehall-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) from 2014-2015.

Tom’s main ongoing project is examining the influence of the UK on the development of state security sectors in the Global South through training and assistance since 1945. This lunchtime talk focuses on one of his case studies in this project: Tanzania. Like all post-colonial states Tanzania’s political, economic and social development has been the focus of numerous studies by both indigenous and foreign scholars.

Thursday 21 February 2019
Ms Alice Fairnie (Sainsbury Laboratory, Botanic Garden Cambridge)

Flowers show a huge diversity of colourful patterns on the surface of their petals which are thought to act as visual signals to animal pollinators. My research is exploring flower patterns: their evolution, development, and function. I work with Hibiscus which has a bullseye pattern created by combining contrasting cell types and pigmentation in the basal and distal regions of the petal. The talk will cover the work carried out in my first six months of my PhD which focused on understanding how flower patterns form, creating Hibiscus flowers with modified patterns, and observing bumblebees interacting with flowers with different patterns.

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