And the next talk is…

Can cities save bees?  Insights from the Urban Pollinators Project
Speaker: Dr Mark Goddard
Sunday 8 March 2015, 11.30am to about 1.00pm

There has been much concern about the decline of bees and other pollinators in recent years.  The Urban Pollinators Project was set up to explore the importance of urban habitats for pollinators and asks three main research questions:  (i) How does pollinator biodiversity in towns and cities compare to that of nature reserves and farmland? (ii) Where are the hot-spots of pollinator biodiversity in cities? (iii) What can we do to improve pollinator diversity and abundance in cities?

In his talk Mark will discuss the preliminary results of the research and the implications for how we manage our urban green spaces to make cities more pollinator-friendly.

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!

Digital instruments for classical music production – blessing or curse for musicians?

Reinhold Behringer, Professor of Creative Technology

Leeds Beckett University

Click here for a copy of the presentation
Digital technology has changed the way of many professional activities. Also the creation of music has undergone a significant change: there are now “virtual instruments” available on a computer desktop which contain sampled instrument sounds of real acoustic classical traditional music instruments such as string instruments, woodwinds, brass etc. “Desktop musicians” can use these instruments to realise their own recordings of music ensembles that sound absolutely natural and realistic.While this is a very valuable tool for composers who can use this technology to experiment with different instrument settings and to simulate real performances, some musicians feel threatened by this technology and fear that it may take away their job of performing music through actual instrument playing. In particular in the USA there has been strong resistance from the classical musician community towards such “virtual digital orchestras”.

This talk highlighted some of the technical background of such digital music systems and explained how this can be used to create recordings of classical music compositions. The presenter then discussed the controversial reception of such technology from the point of view of music performers. He himself, however, is convinced through his own artistic practice that overall such systems provide opportunities rather than threats to the classical music community.

Is the Earth’s Magnetic Field about to Flip?

Speaker: Dr Jon Mound, University of Leeds
Sunday 9 November 2014

This week we were joined by Dr Jon Mound from the University of Leeds, who gave a fascinating talk about the physics of the Earth’s magnetic field. As Jon explained, the magnetic field around the Earth is produced by the spinning currents in the molten iron outer core of the Earth and protects us by deflecting harmful radiation from the Sun. The magnetic field has a north pole (as pointed to by compasses) and a south pole, which reverse positions roughly four times every million years. We can see this in the arrangment of magnetic particles embedded in rocks formed at different times in the Earth’s history.

Ever since we have started to measure the strength of the magnetic field, it has been weakening. This, coupled with the fact that it is way ‘overdue’, could indicate that a flip is about to occur. However it can be very difficult to predict as the time between reversals is very irregular. The weakening of the field would result in more radiation reaching us from the Sun, which could cause major damage to satellites and infrastructure such as the National Grid, which are susceptible to hits from charged particles. It could also have an effect on the climate as the particles interact with weather systems. The magnetic field is still used for navigation by humans, and also many animals, such as homing pigeons, many small mammals and even spiny lobsters are sensitive to the magnetic field (known as magnetoception). A flip in the polarity could cause confusion for these animals. That said, they’ve survived many magnetic flips in the past!

As Jon summarised, we may be a long, long way off from another magnetic field flip. If it does come soon, it could cause some damage to our communication systems, but it is something we could easily prepare for by building some extra shielding, and certainly nothing to panic about!

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
@batdrawer1

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.)

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