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    Archive for the 'Life Sciences' Category

    Elegy for a password

    By Kira McPherson, on 31 March 2014

    We were gathered there on 25 March to commemorate “the end of an era in research” – the death of the password.

    Professor M. Angela Sasse ably led the service (disguised as a Lunch Hour Lecture), the tone of which was sombre if not exactly mournful. Everybody seemed to agree that it was the password’s time to go.

    For me, her lecture was an interesting lesson on the intersections between technology and human fallibility, and in particular, how the development of the former can outpace the latter.

    This is particularly true of computer authentication systems, which most of us use in the form of passwords; the jumble of letters, numbers and symbols of a designated length needed before you can check emails.


    Back to the future: climate change lessons from the Pliocene era

    By Yohann K Koshy, on 17 February 2014

    Of the many clichés passed from generation to generation, “You must understand your past in order to understand your future” is both the most intuitively correct and consistently ignored.

    Too often the historian’s excavation of the past is considered to be of merely academic interest rather than a stark warning about the social, political and economic conditions that can re-enable historic calamities.

    Dr Chris Brierly (UCL Geography), who delivered the Lunch Hour Lecture on 13 February, is pursuing historical research to help us comprehend our past and possibly safeguard our future from devastation.

    V0023203 An ideal landscape of the Pliocene period with elephants, hiInstead of looking back 100 years at Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Brierly looks back 5 million years, when the world was curiously similar yet significantly different to the one we inhabit today.

    Brierly explained how his research concentrates on mapping the tropical climate of the Pliocene epoch, which began around 5 million years ago and ended 2.6 million years ago.

    Just like the present, the Pliocene world was both warm and cool: grassland expanded and ice-caps accumulated. It did, however, have a structurally different tropical sea climate.


    UCL community turns out for the Provost’s Public Engagement Awards

    By Clare S Ryan, on 30 January 2014

    Public Engagement at UCL is a ‘big deal’. Throughout the year, students and staff at all levels reach out into their communities, expertly guided by UCL’s eight-person strong Public Engagement Unit.

    Guests at the event

    Guests at the event

    So it was no surprise to find a real cross section of the UCL community at the fifth Provost’s Public Engagement Awards. In the jam-packed venue, I spotted deans, PhD students, heads of professional services, undergraduates, lecturers and personal assistants.

    There were even some real life members of the public who had come with their children to the event – giving it a real sense of celebration.

    Presenting the awards, after the jazz band and lively audience had eventually piped down, ‘new’ Provost Professor Michael Arthur expressed his enthusiasm for the achievements in this area.

    “It’s fantastic to come to UCL and see such a commitment to public engagement. It’s tremendous,” he said. “My experience in Stratford and the excellent work that we’re already doing there has highlighted the real importance of two-way public engagement.”

    So, without further ado, here are the winners:


    Cigarettes: the most successful product ever?

    By James Heather, on 20 May 2013

    On 14 March, sandwiched between the UK national No Smoking Day and the international World No Tobacco Day, a lunch hour lecture explored what might be the most successful product ever: cigarettes.

    Cigarette courtesy of  Fried Dough on Flickr

    Cigarette courtesy of
    Fried Dough on Flickr

    Deputy director of Cancer Research UK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre Professor Allan Hackshaw reminded us all just why cigarettes are so terrible.

    There were a billion smokers in 2010. That’s a big number, and it’s going up, despite all that’s known about the health risks that smoking brings.

    That might seem strange, until you look at how much each side of the table spends. In 2011, the US spent $457 million to reduce tobacco-related harm.

    However, the tobacco industry spent more than $8 billion promoting, marketing and advertising their products, which makes it a little easier to understand why a product that kills half its consumers is still finding new ones.