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    UCL Events blog

    By Nick Dawe, on 6 May 2011

    Reviews of UCL public lectures, debates, exhibitions, shows, and more…

    Lunch Hour Lectures: Distracted, confused and unaware – the elusive gift of attention

    By Kilian Thayaparan, on 24 October 2014

    Active brain“I hope you’re not all here for the wrong reason – so distracted, confused and unaware that you can’t pay attention”, Professor Nilli Lavie (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) joked at the beginning of her lecture on the psychology and brain research of attention. One would suspect that among the packed out audience, many (like myself) were in fact there in the hope of a ‘cure’ for the attention difficulties we all face in our everyday lives.

    Professor Lavie first provided a succinct yet simple definition of ‘attention’, describing it as a process of gathering our mental resources and focusing on a portion of information around us; a selective focus of our neural and mental processes.

    She then posed two specific questions with regards to this: Why at some times are we so distracted that we can’t pay attention? And why at other times do we pay so much attention that we don’t notice important things that are happening around us?

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    Churchill, his physicists and the nuclear bomb

    By Oli Usher, on 22 October 2014

    Churchill wrote extensively in the mainstream press

    Churchill wrote extensively in
    the mainstream press

    Winston Churchill was not the nuclear naif he has sometimes been made out as. Rather, he was a visionary who grasped the impact of nuclear power and nuclear weapons as early as the 1930s and who lost sleep over nuclear proliferation. But his achievements in the field were as a writer in the 1930s and in his largely forgotten second term as PM in the 1950s, not as Britain’s wartime leader.

    This is the argument of Graham Farmelo, who spoke on “Churchill, his nuclear physicists and the bomb” in a public lecture at UCL’s Physics department on 8 October. Farmelo, a physicist and popular science writer, is the author of Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics, published last year.

    Churchill’s involvement with nuclear research does not begin in May 1940, when became prime minister. Rather, Farmelo said, we need to look at Churchill in the preceding decade.

    By 1930, Churchill’s political career was in the doldrums, he had retreated to the backbenches, and any return to ministerial office seemed unlikely. He occupied himself with what he had always done: writing. Churchill had a lucrative sideline in journalism, including articles in mass-market publications like the News of the World, writing on a broad range of topics, including science.

    Even before his political career tanked, Churchill had shown a keen interest in science. Among the books he read while posted to India in the army was Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and a primer on physics. And in 1926, while Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had even taken time out from writing the budget to dictate an essay on particle physics to his secretary.

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    Sense and Sensibility: the Old English Boethius

    By Guest Blogger, on 16 October 2014

    pencil-iconWritten by Charlotte Hyde (third-year student, UCL English)

    Can two translations of the same text have a relationship? How can we define this relationship? Experienced practitioners and novices of Old English alike were treated to a fascinating exploration of the link between the Prose and Prosimetrical translations of Boethius as part of the Translation in History lecture series, given by Quain Professor of English Language and Literature, Susan Irvine.

    Ivory diptych of Boethius (late 5th century)

    Ivory diptych of Boethius (late 5th century)

    Having devoted much of her career to advancing our understanding of both versions of the Old English Boethius, Professor Irvine was able to give the audience a detailed history of the text, explaining the Latin origins of ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’ and outlining the programme of translation established by Alfred in the 9th Century. Concerned by declining literacy in Latin, Alfred placed great importance on raising the cultural status of the vernacular and as such introduced a radical programme of intellectual reform, translating seminal works into English.

    One of the most important insights revealed here was the nature of translation. Quoting from Alfred’s ‘Preface to Gregory’s ‘Pastoral Care’, Professor Irvine brought to light the nature of translation at the time as being ‘sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense’. Translation according to Alfred comprised first of gaining an understanding of the text before being able to convey that ‘sense’ into the vernacular. It is interesting to keep this in mind when considering any translation into Old English from the Alfredian programme as the meaning of the text can be altered during the process.

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    Lunch hour lecture: On supernovae and serendipity

    By Irrum Ali, on 13 October 2014

    Like a white dwarf, autumn 2014’s first Lunch Hour Lecture was dense, full of energy and tightly packed (but in this case, time and not space, I might add).

    Psyched for my first Lunch Hour Lecture, I was ready to explore the world of supernovae with a 45-minute guided journey through the stars, namely, ones in the process of exploding very dramatically.

    Radiating enthusiasm and demonstrating expertise from start to finish, Dr Steve Fossey (UCL Physics and Astronomy) took a capacity audience on a whistle stop tour of January’s discovery of a Type ia supernova, memorably named SN 2014J, and situated in our neighbourhood galaxy, the sci-fi sounding, Messier 82.

    After summarising the rules for supernovae discovery (there are two options: looking, and not looking but accidentally finding), Dr Fossey gave a short overview of history’s accidental supernova discoveries.

    One scenario for Type Ia supernovae: a white dwarf accreting matter from a neighbour till it becomes unstable Credit: European Southern Observatory

    One scenario for Type Ia supernovae: a white dwarf accreting matter from a neighbour until it becomes unstable
    Credit: European Southern Observatory via Oli Usher

    Beginning with Tycho Brahe’s find in 1572 – labelled SN 1572 – which rewrote the rules of astronomy, he moved on to Johannes Kepler’s discovery of SN 1604 in, wait for it, 1604 (are you seeing a pattern here?) and finally, and more recently, SN 1987A, found by astronomers in Chile.

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