THE LABORATORY OF SANTORIO: WHEN SCIENCE BECAME HISTORY, 17th January 2018
Dr Fabrizio Bigotti of Exeter University's Centre for Medical History gave a fascinating presentation of his research project to a meeting of some 50 members of Exeter U3A.
Santorio Santorius (1561-1636) was a Venetian physiologist and physician who introduced accurate, standardised measurement into medicine. For example, recognising it wasn't good enough to describe a patient as "cold" or "hot", he devised the first thermometers. He also built weighing scales, hygrometers, accessorised beds, anemometers, even bag-ice for anaesthesia.
Dr Bigotti's project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is to build some of Santorio's instruments from existing drawings and so re-create a Santorio's laboratory. To see precisely how he pioneered the science of measurement will provide an important link between the practice of the Ancients and modern methods.
CONVERSATION CAFE – An extension of the Family Class
Wednesdays, 7th February, 21st February, 7th March, 21st March
The Conversation Cafes got off to a great start on the 7th February. 18-20 students turned up, with a range of ages from early 20s to 50, and a good mix of male and female. There were 4 U3A members and we had 4/5 students each. At my table I had 4 young men – from China, Japan, Turkey and Kazakhstan – and there were people from lots of other nations and cultures there. A truly global gathering! People were chatting about a wide variety of topics – there wasn’t a preset theme. We ranged from historical features of Exeter, different architectural styles, why the British go swimming in the sea on Christmas Day/New Year’s Day, would we like to go back in time and see how the rich and kings lived, which led on to good National Trust properties to visit in the area! All the students seemed to really enjoy it and there was a general cry of disappointment when Jo announced at 4.30 that it was time to finish! They all said they would return in a fortnight.
SCIENCE, POLITICS OR THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING?
ON THE ROLE OF PHILOSOPHY IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, 20th February 2018
A talk by Dr Gabriele Galluzzo, Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy.
Forty-six U3A members attended and Dr Galluzzo began by asking, ‘What is philosophy today?’ Our members suggested a rational academic discipline, disconnected from life. Dr Galluzzo agreed and suggested also intense specialisation across a diversified research field and, perhaps, a contribution to public debate.
By contrast, he said, ancient Greek Philosophy (c. 600 BC to 200 AD) was a search for wisdom in the big questions of life. Pre-Socratic philosophers sought a rational and natural explanation of the universe, minus gods and myths. Fifth century Sophists were professional educators charging fees: the art of rhetoric, regardless of truth, was a useful tool in early democracies.
Socrates pursued wisdom and truth about fellow humans through endless disputations, enlightening some and enfuriating others. In a way, the manner of his death granted him non-divine immortality. For Plato and Aristotle, philosophy was a universal science, the theory of everything. Plato used the method of Socratic dialogue and is best known now for his metaphysical and epistemological ideas, while Aristotle is famous for his logic.
Epicurus and the Stoics used philosophy as therapy. Epicurus believed in free will without fear of retribution from the gods. Stoics preached acceptance of misfortune as divine providence.
So, without gods, superstitions, myths, fate, or transmigrating souls, does modern western society find these ancient philosophies attractive? For U3A members, stoicism perhaps?
PRAYERS, PIGS AND PHALLIC VEGETABLES: MEDIEVAL AIDS TO FERTILITY, 18th April 2018
A talk by Dr Catherine Rider, Senior Lecturer in History.
Twenty U3A members gathered in the Business School on the Streatham University Campus to hear this talk about medieval attitudes to infertility. Infertility was a great cause for concern in medieval times for if there were no children from a marriage, there would be no one to inherit and no one to support the parents in old age. We had a chance to read and discuss two texts, one probably and unusually written by a woman. Many believed that the cause of infertility was a judgment of God or perhaps witchcraft, but there were other theories, some of which seem very up-to-date and others quite fanciful: diet, life-style and anatomical abnormalities might be a contributing factor but also it was proposed that glow-worms could cause infertility in men and bees in women! We also read about many remedies, often involving the reproductive organs of pigs and hares as well as herbs, spices and wine. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and instructive talk which we could have happily continued for another hour or so.
WHAT DOES OPENNESS IN ANIMAL RESEARCH MEAN TO YOU? 25th May 2018
Professor Gail Davies and Dr Rich Gorman gave a polished presentation to our members and the main part of the session was an interactive exercise that seemed to be part of a large programme - the Animal Research Nexus. This seeks to engage patients, public and practitioners in exploring how to optimise the use of animals that are used in medical research.
I expected an emphasis on justifying the use of animals in medical research but learnt that the project seeks to minimise negative perceptions of research involving live animals by engaging in an open dialogue. The main part of the session was a brainstorm of ideas on how to achieve greater openness. We were all fully engaged with this exercise, which was skilfully handled by a professional facilitator brought in for the occasion (they must have been warned how unruly U3A members can be). In that regard I felt that the project team had extended a considerable degree of 'openness' on this occasion. It was only after the event that I felt that perhaps I had been duped. There was not a single mention or hint during the event of the fear, pain and suffering that animals such as rabbits, mice, rats, monkeys, cats and dogs suffer in the name of medical progress. Nor was there any mention of the various alternatives to animal testing that exist or their advantages and disadvantages. This lack of awareness was reflected in one or two comments from attendees who felt that a single life saved justifies the use of animals in research, whatever it involves. While everyone seemed to be engaged with the presentation, I felt that the session, and we, therefore failed in these important aspects of openness.
We are grateful for the engaged response from Jonathan Peat to this event. The talk was run by three members of the Animal Research Nexus team, who are researching changing social contexts around animal research. One of the changes over the last 5 years is that facilities that do animal research are trying to be more open about the work they do. The aim of our talk was to explore what these moves to openness around animal research, which we illustrated with some case studies, might be mean for members of U3A. As Jonathan’s report demonstrates, this is a complex issue. Questions often intensify as openness increases.
We should emphasise that the aim of our work on the Animal Research Nexus is not seeking to ‘minimise negative perceptions of research involving live animals by engaging in an open dialogue.’ This may be one motivation for openness, but our work is interested in what different people expect openness to achieve, alongside other changes in science and society, rather than promoting a particular view. We also wanted to acknowledge the rich contributions from other U3A members who did talk about the lived experience of animals and the need to explore alternatives.
We will be posting the short report with the full set of U3A members’ responses on how they think it would be possible to improve openness in animal research on our website shortly (https://www.animalresearchnexus.org/). We look forward to continuing debate about what people think openness about animal research is for and how best to achieve it.
Prof Gail Davies
THE GLOBAL FASHION REVOLUTION: WHO MADE MY CLOTHES? 4th June 2018
This question was the basis of the talk by Professor Ian Cook to twenty-six Exeter U3A members. Ian is a Professor of Cultural Geography and he has been working with Fashion Revolution, a global movement that started after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, that resulted in appalling loss of life among the factory workers. Fashion Revolution is aiming for transparency and safe, fair working conditions in the garment industry, with the question ‘Who made my clothes’ now being asked of brands and retailers by thousands of social media users. Activists have used some innovative means to spread their message, such as slipping notes in the pockets of garments on the racks of retail outlets and, in Brazil, placing giant tee shirts emblazoned with ‘Who made my clothes?’ on statues. Ian’s talk was thought provoking but also entertaining, prompting plenty of questions from the U3A members present.
Ian will be running a free on-line Futurelearn course (MOOC*), Who Made My Clothes? for three weeks from the 25th June for the University of Exeter, which lifts the lid on the global fashion industry. See https://www.futurelearn.com/ courses/who-made-my-clothes.
FOOD AND NUTRITION IN GREEK & ROMAN ART, 28th June 2018
This talk was given by John Wilkins, Professor of Greek Culture, who had previously given us talks on Galen's theories, among other topics.
John opened by asking us “What is Art?”, and showed pictures of the Parthenon and Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. This prompted the start of audience participation, which continued throughout the session. He explained the inclusion of the Parthenon under the topic by talking us through the animal sacrifices there, from which the meat (at least, the parts not dedicated to the gods – luckily the more edible bits) was distributed to the attendees.
He showed us a variety of Classical art, including drinking vessels, plates and the statuary of Polyclitus, before reaching 'taste', a word we use both for in relation to eating and art appreciation.
Trudi pointed out the similarly with 'culture' and 'cultivation', connecting growing our food and artistic refinement.
A very interesting session from Professor Wilkins, whose depth of knowledge never fails to impress, with a high level of contributions from the audience.
AGEING AND THE ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH, 28th June 2018
The University of Exeter Medical School, working in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Queensland, Australia to develop research around Ageing and the Environment, brought together researchers (from health, engineering, sport and exercise science, and psychology) and representatives from industry and the older population (represented by U3A, Age UK and other relevant organisations engaged with such population).
Our focus was to consider Ageing and the Environment, exploring four areas of interest: Urban Design; Structures and Hazards; Natural and Sensory Environments; and Social Connectedness.
The ultimate aim of the collaboration is to improve health and wellbeing as we get older in relation to the built and natural environment; the initial objective of this event was to bring together interested people to build links and collaborations that will then develop research ideas and possible solutions to address some of the challenges we face as we get older.
Peter Cleasby and I enjoyed five presentations during the morning, and during the afternoon were invited to work collaboratively in mixed groups, using our experience and creativity to identify research areas relating to the four key areas mentioned above. These will be integrated into future research grant proposals for this highly stimulating research group.
UNIVERSITY LIAISON FAMILY CLASS VIDEO PROJECT
CULTURE CLIPS – BRITS ON THE BRITS
In August, seven members of Exeter U3A went in front of the camera to record short talks and discussions about various aspects of British, particularly English, culture and life in the UK. Jo Hughes (Insessional Science Liaison and Coordinator of General English, at INTO LLP at the University of Exeter) is building up online video resources as part of the University’s Electronic Learning Environment. Here, overseas students can access independently materials to support their learning of English. Jo wants students to be able to listen to ordinary English speakers talking individually and in small groups about our everyday lives, habits and customs - the sort of thing which we take for granted but which makes us who we are. The aim is to give overseas students some background to our culture and behavior –aspects of which they might find puzzling or different from their home countries. As well as being very useful for their language skills, hopefully the students will find the videos interesting and entertaining, and the information should help to explain some of our ‘strange’ behaviour so that they feel more comfortable meeting English people socially. Amongst other things, students can discover why English people get very upset when anyone queue jumps (try it at your peril), what to expect when they are invited for tea (it’s more than a drink so don’t have a big meal beforehand), and how to take part in a pancake race (remember your frying pan)!
RESEARCH INTO AGEING
A group of 20 Exeter U3A members attended a presentation on 23 July organised by Dr Lorna Harries, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University Medical School. Lorna is a highly respected geneticist who has previously given us talks on ageing processes and her diabetes research. This time the focus was on 'cellular senescence.' The first short talk was by Dr Eva Latorre, who explained that one of the biological markers of ageing is the increase in cells becoming senescent. All cells in the body are affected; they no longer divide, fail to support tissues (i.e. they become dysfunctional), and accumulate damage and a cocktail of harmful chemicals. These chemicals can have an inflammatory effect on neighbouring cells, signalling them into senescence as well. All this can lead to age-related disease. Eva told us about some of the specific characteristics within cells which lead to a gradual deterioration over time. However she and her fellow researchers think this may not be inevitable and it may be possible for therapies to be developed to delay the process of senescence.
The second presentation, by Dr Darren Walsh, was ' modelling senescence using mathematical techniques.' The objective is to develop a predictive marker for senescence by taking into account all the known variables and then calculating their rates of change. Using a flu epidemic as an example, dividing the population into three groups 'susceptible,' infectious,' and 'recovered,' (the latter including people naturally immune), Darren asked us in the audience to suggest the information we would need to collect in order to calculate the rate of transition between the groups. The resulting mathematical model can be checked for accuracy against actual known data.
Lastly we had a talk by Dr Harries called 'the splice of life.' The proportion of world population over the age of 65 is set to increase to 59% by 2060 and this will include a huge increase in the over – 80s. There will be a corresponding rise in dementia, arthritis, diabetes, cancer and cardio-vascular disease. Research into these diseases has hitherto looked at different processes or mechanisms thought to cause each individual condition. Now however there is a growing awareness that one process, that of cell senescence, may underly all the 'diseases of ageing.' In young people, any senescent cells are removed by the immune system. In older people the immune system itself is affected by cell senescence and is therefore less effective at removing senescent cells all over the body. The proteins which carry messages from genes into cells are called 'splicing factors' but these reduce with age, thus decreasing the diversity of cell activity. Chemicals called polyphenols have been shown to switch splicing factors back on, and reduce inflammatory markers. Cells are thus regenerated in a healthy way (i.e. not leading to the pathological cell reproduction that happens in cancer).
The aim of the research is to understand which genes are most important in human ageing, and using the mathematical model, to identify individuals at risk of age-related disease. Lorna stressed that she was not talking about extending lifespan, but making our older years healthier if possible. Polyphenols are present in red wine and chocolate, however (sadly) not in the sorts of quantities necessary for cell regeneration! - this therapy will have to be left to pharmaceutical companies to develop, but in the meantime we should all continue eating our brightly-coloured fruit and veg.
Thank you to the Exeter U3A University Liaison Team for another lively, interactive and thought-provoking session with Lorna and her world-class team.
HAMLET IN PARTS: BROADCASTING SHAKESPEARE LIVE FROM THE RSC, 31st October 2018
Halloween saw a group of twenty-six U3A members gather at Exeter University to listen to Pascale Aebischer, Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Performance Studies, deliver a thought-provoking lecture on the complexities of delivering the “Live Broadcast” of Hamlet as performed by the RSC from Stratford upon Avon, to global cinema audiences.
In the Hamlet production, six cameras are positioned so as to capture images of both the actors and their audience in the performance. The technical scriptwriters for the ‘live broadcast’ have three days in which to revise their scripts to suit the needs of the camera work, adjusting to the parts played by the camera, the audience and of course the performance itself. Whilst the audience do not have to audition for their ‘parts’ in the broadcast production, they may be selected to portray to the cinema audiences the demographics of those watching in the theatre. Selection like this has been found to be successful in increasing the number of rising theatre attendances.
So, two kinds of experiences were discussed here. That of the cinema audience, helped along by the slick camera work and direction, every movement, sound and nuance, being delivered by the technical director and his team. Then, that of the theatre goers who not only bear witness to a play-within-a-play but also to the drama unfolding via the technical performances of the camera crew and its scriptwriters. In the Live Broadcast the audience will only see what the camera shows, whereas those in the theatre will have the full experience of the production, and the strong sense of the emotional reactions from others in the audience. Nonetheless, social media buffs watching live broadcasts in cinemas can get quite a buzz, tweeting in the intervals, and before and after performances can put them in touch with other viewer- tweeters in cinemas around the world. Furthermore, cinema audiences can sometimes feel like theatre audiences if the production is really intense and the auditorium to capacity.
A discussion followed and members appeared very much in favour of the broadcast option, thus avoiding restrictions of higher seat prices, and distance, and so having the opportunity to experience live theatre (albeit limited by camera crews’ decisions, as above) which they might not otherwise have been able to enjoy. Added to that, the larger theatre companies, e.g. RSC, no longer do tours around the country. This also means that smaller local theatre companies can develop and expand.
Me, if I could, I’d always go for the smell of the grease paint and the best seats in the house, however when push comes to shove you’ll see me at the Picture House watching a “Live Broadcast”.
Further Reading: Shakespeare and the Live Theatre Broadcast Experience
(Susanne Greenhalgh & Laurie E Osbourne Edited by Professor Pascale Aebischer.)
FAMILY CLASS – 27th November 2018
On an incredibly wet and miserable Tuesday morning at the end of November, five U3A members attended a session of the Family Class at the INTO centre. This class is held for family members of European and overseas students at the University of Exeter to help them to improve their English and to learn about British culture and daily life. We were welcomed very warmly by a lively group of more than twenty students, including people from Italy, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Columbia – truly a global gathering. There was a great range of ages (with the youngest attender being 11 months!) and some students had been in the UK or had lived in English-speaking countries for several years, whereas others had not visited the UK before and had only been here for a month or so. The British weather of course provided an introductory topic of conversation!
As this was a teaching session for the students, the organiser, Jo Hughes, Insessional Science Liaison and Coordinator of General English at INTO, had prepared the class with a list of topics that they should ask us about, ranging from Christmas Culture to Politics through to Why People (especially young men) in Britain Don’t Use Umbrellas!
Halfway through the session of an hour and a half, U3A members moved tables so the students had a chance to exchange ideas with a different person and importantly to listen to a different English voice. As usual, the time passed very quickly, with the lively conversation lubricated by some snacks and tea and coffee. At the end, Jo Hughes thanked the U3A members, saying that the students had had a really enjoyable time and that it was the personalities and contributions from them and us that make this so successful. Indeed, the students certainly seemed to enjoy the session, not just for meeting and chatting to us but also the chance to socialise with each other. They were very appreciative of the opportunity to find out about British life by chatting to us, with some of them thanking us personally at the end. We hope to see some of them again at the Conversation Cafe sessions which Jo Hughes is planning to organise for the Spring and Summer Terms.
ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL: THE SCIENCE OF BRILLIANT COLOUR
Professor Pete Vukusic, 29 November 2018
Bertram Brockington welcomed us on behalf of the U3A University Liaison Team and introduced us to Professor Vukusic. Professor Vukusic recalled having addressed us in the past, as a group if not the same individuals, and introduced his presentation on colour with special reference to colour in nature. But first he addressed some basics about the physics of colour, with thanks to Isaac Newton who published his Opticks (sic) in 1690. We learned that Sir Isaac had discovered or understood a great deal of those basics which have been improved upon in large measure only with the advantage of more accurate equipment than he had to hand.
Sir Isaac anticipated Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” by demonstrating that white light when refracted (bent) through a prism splits into its composite colours. He and most of our audience claim these are seven – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. Now it is taught without Indigo since if this colour actually occurs in the spectrum it does so indistinctly at the margin of Blue and Violet. Light is the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum – the spectrum of electromagnetic waves (transverse waves like those in a plucked guitar string) which extend from high energy (short wavelength) ionising radiation through gamma rays, X-rays and ultraviolet rays to visible light (VIBGYOR in order of increasing wavelength) and then Infra Red (heat), micro-waves and radio waves. The higher energy, shorter wavelength frequencies are refracted most and the longer least, so that a beam of white light passing through a prism spread into the familiar spectrum showing that white light is composed of those colours. Sir Isaac went a step further by refracting a beam of the red portion of the spectrum through a prism to explore whether or not it would split further. It didn’t, showing that it is not a composite colour and that the spectrum we know consists of the fundamental visible colours.
With reference to Professor Vukusic’s beautiful magenta lamb’s wool pullover, we discussed the mixing of colours, including those not in the spectrum. Here we learned that some coloured light was so pure that it comprised a very narrow band within the spectrum. A pure red might be light of or very close to wavelength 685 nm (nanometer – one billionth of a meter) for example but light of a wider range, 635 – 735 say, centred around 685 would also look red. Other spectrum colours behave similarly but a much wider range of additional colours is created by mixing wavelengths from across the spectrum.
The colours of pigments arise because the pigment absorbs all wavelengths other than that which it reflects and which accounts for its colour. They work by subtraction so when pigments are mixed to create new colours, they are increasingly less bright as each pigment absorbed its share of the spectrum until dark greys or browns result. On the other hand, coloured light can be mixed to new colours but with increasing brilliance towards white ultimately. The pointillist artists understood this and adopted the technique of painting using tiny dots of primary colours, relying on the observer’s eye to mix them to intermediate colours while retaining brilliance by avoiding subtraction.
o far we had been discussing colour created by pigmentation. We now turned to structural colour. Sir Isaac had rightly understood that the colours we see in the film of a soap bubble result from a process he explored called interference. Light, as we have said, is a transverse wave, like those on the surface of water or a vibrating string. When two waves are super-imposed, they reinforce each other where the peaks and troughs coincide but depress each other where peaks coincide with troughs. The movements of the two wave patterns sum together but if one is up and the other down they sum to nothing. When light strikes a soap bubble some is reflected from the outer surface of the bubble film and some passed through to be reflected on a parallel path from the inner face of the inner side of the film. So these two rays travel together and interfere with each other. Where the path of the light through the bubble film is close to or a whole number multiple of the wavelength of, blue light say, the blue light waves in the two rays will reinforce each other – constructive interference – while those of other wavelengths will interfere destructively and we will see blue. The multiple and varying colours we see arise because the varying thickness of the bubble film and the different angles at which the light travels through it mean that the length of the ray’s path varies and so different colours are interfered with constructively or destructively at different places and times on the bubble’s surface.
This type of colouration, structural colour, produces iridescence in which the colour of a surface varies with point of view. We see this in the neck feathers of pigeons, for example, and in the wings of butterflies and tails of peacocks. Here, the effect is created by reflection from layers of scales or other structures within the reflecting surface. Microscopic imaging shows these surfaces to contain very regular and precisely sized reflecting layers, like multiple soap bubble films. Depending on the angle at which the incident light strikes these surfaces, interference between the several reflected rays from the several reflecting layers reinforces different wavelengths of light. This is structural colour (because it is created by structures within the reflecting surface) and involves no pigmentation.
The next topic we looked at was bio-luminescence. Professor Vukusic demonstrated this using light sticks – plastics tubes containing two fluids separated from each other because one is contained in a glass vial within the outer plastic tube. When the tube is bent, the inner vial breaks and the two liquids can mix whereupon the stick glows with the colour determined by the chemistry of the combining liquids. We saw this demonstrated by his disassembling one of these sticks and mixing the liquids in a transparent cup, producing the effect discussed. Glow worms, for example, use this kind of chemistry to produce their light.
We then saw how astonishingly the octopus exploits the manipulation of surface colour for disguise. Not only could it change the colour and pattern of colour in its skin by changing the shape of pigmented cells which would present smaller or larger patches of colour, it could change its surface texture also. The video illustrating this showed what looked like an underwater shrub. But suddenly a large part of it detached and morphed into an octopus. It was quite astonishing, especially when seen running backwards as the animal attached itself to this clump of apparently leafy greenery and then disappeared as its colouration and skin texture transformed to match its perch.
Despite there having been lots of questions and discussion along the way to frustrate Professor Vukusic’s plan, we nevertheless got a wonderfully coherent and clear exposition of this fascinating subject from him, for which Trudi Learmouth thanked him on our behalf.