And the next talk is…

Is the Earth’s magnetic field about to flip?
Speaker: Dr Jon Mound
Sunday 9 November 2014, 11.30am to about 1.00pm

As always, there will be tea, coffee and scrumptious cakes available to purchase from the café if you wish, but the talk is totally free.

Do join us: the more, the merrier!

Learning to Crawl: How we Emerged from the Seas

October’s edition of Café Scientifique at Leeds City Museum was presented by myself, as a roaring crowd of nine people settled into the sofas for coffee and science. As it’s a subject I’m interested in and enjoyed learning about in university, I decided on the evolution of tetrapods for the topic. Starting with one of our likely ancestors, the squishy, worm-like Pikaia gracilens, I worked my way through the family tree of chordates, vertebrates, fish, lobe-finned fish and early tetrapods that would eventually become Homo sapiens, noting the key physical adaptations that brought them closer to what we see in our species today. Pikaia may not look like much, but it’s one of the earliest animals to develop the simple head-at-the-front, tail-at-the-back body plan. Entelognathus was among the first to develop a jaw, while Guiyu (similar looking to the well-known coelacanth) developed strong, muscley fins that would eventually become arms.

I had a lot of fun describing our emergence from the seas, and a good discussion was had afterwards covering possible reasons for adaptation, the causes of extinction and how ‘missing links’ in the fossil record can sometimes be predicted before they’re found!

- Glenn Roadley, Trainee Curator of Natural Science, Leeds Museum Discovery Centre

Our atmosphere: chemistry matters

Speaker: Professor Dwayne Heard
Sunday 8 June 2014

Climate change and the debate about its causes are so often in the news that we probably all know more about this scientific subject than almost any other. The chemistry behind it all isn’t quite so widely discussed, however, so this week’s Café Sci was of particular interest. It is always difficult to reduce my pages of notes to a semi-succinct paragraph or two, and this week’s talk covered so many issues, it would have been even more difficult than usual. Fortunately, though, Professor Heard suggested some great short films on the subject.

The first looks at where it all began: right around here, during the Industrial Revolution. Here’s a time-lapse history of human global CO2 emissions since 1750 (on YouTube).

The second short film has a similar theme, but a slightly more upbeat ending. Humans are now the dominant influence on the planet, and given that the IPCC is 95% certain that we are the cause of climate change, can we find ways to fix the mess we’ve made? Welcome to the Anthropocene (on Vimeo).

At the University of Leeds, Professor Heard is investigating the behaviour and future potential of ‘nature’s detergent’, the hydroxyl radical, OH. So, here’s the final little movie, about the Outlaws in Air City (again, on YouTube).

(Apologies if any of those links go astray over time.)

How ‘Earthlings’ have fun looking for life in a MARS analogue site

Speaker: Liane Benning
Sunday 13 April 2014

Would you want to be an astronaut on a trip to Mars? This was a question put to us by Professor Liane Benning from the University of Leeds. We considered the work necessary to design and build – and then employ – the instruments looking for life, such as the Mars rovers. We learned about extreme conditions, and the places on Earth used for the years of testing it takes before instruments are ready to deploy. We thought about what ‘life’ might actually look like (hint: not little green men), and discussed the dangers humans would face on a mission to Mars.

Parasites and rhinoceros poo

Speaker: Andrew Stringer
Sunday 9 February 2014

This time we met a man who collects Black Rhino poo for his research. Following a brief history of epidemiology, we learned about the ‘charismatic’ parasites (nematodes and tapeworms) that Andrew Stringer studied in his work to determine if their abundance of transmission in rhinos was due to methods and environmental circumstances or (as proven) to density of the host. The speaker then talked about the Oxpecker bird and its advantageous relationship with the rhino, and a theory that this is only a recent development as a defence against humans. We heard about the Red Queen hypothesis, the conservation conundrum, and alongside some amusing anecdotes we had a demonstration using a teapot, a coffee cup and a shopping bag. Only at Café Sci, folks.


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