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Lunch Hour Lecture: Childhood maltreatment through the lens of neuroscience and epigenetics

Thomas Hughes26 February 2016

How do childhood experiences affect a child’s propensity to mental health issues later in life? Can childhood trauma be directly linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety? In this Lunch Hour Lecture by Professor Eamon McCrory (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences), he demonstrated how epigenetics and neurocognitive research is helping to understand how brains adapt to adversity.

As society is beginning to recognise the importance of mental health, more effort has been put into finding how the brain processes this abuse or neglect in children so that we can formulate preventative treatment.

Parts of the brain affected by abuse and trauma.

Parts of the brain affected by abuse and trauma.

Rats and the epigenetics of nurture

Professor McCrory started by talking about epigenetics research with rats. Those brought up in a nurturing environment, where the mother cares for the young, grow up to demonstrate less stress and anxiety. They also grow up to be nurturing parents themselves.

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Lunch Hour Lecture: From gases to gloops – instabilities in fluids

Thomas Hughes25 February 2016

Gases, gloops, waves and cloud formations: Dr Helen Wilson (UCL Mathematics) helped us explore the mathematical explanation for such instabilities in fluids in this Lunch Hour Lecture.

Waves and drips: instabilities in nature

Instabilities in fluids can be caused by a myriad of different factors.  Dr Wilson talked us through a number of common instabilities that we can see in our everyday lives.

Waves and some cloud formations for example are caused by shear. This is the idea of two or more streams moving at different speeds or directions. This is called the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability and creates the familiar wave shapes as the streams push in different directions.

Some natural instabilities are caused by density. Pour a dense, gloopy fluid into a less dense fluid and through additional factors such as gravity, the denser fluid will move through the less dense fluid. This is called the Rayleigh-Taylor instability (see image).

Rayleigh-Taylor Instability via Wikimedia Commons

Rayleigh Taylor Instability via Wikimedia Commons

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Lunch Hour Lecture: The illusion of infinity – is there a limit to optical fibre bandwidth?

Thomas Hughes17 February 2016

Heliograph in use via Wikimedia Commons.

Heliograph in use via Wikimedia Commons.

Professor Polina Bayvel (UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering) opened her Lunch Hour Lecture with the worrying fact that our internet capacity is finite and we are fast approaching that limit. What can we do to find new capacity so that our optical fibre can manage the growth of the coming decades?

Professor Bayvel explained that optical communications have been a part of human communications for millennia. Fire and smoke signals, heliographs and Aldis lamps (which both use flashes of light to signal) are all forms of communication called “free space communications”. These were important for our predecessors’ long distance communications, but with the major flaw that they didn’t work on cloudy or otherwise poor visibility days.

Modern communications are almost entirely built around optical fibre networks. These work by bouncing beams of light along glass cables. The light is received and decoded into whatever information was requested. They allow huge amounts of data to travel long distances, and with the help of repeaters which receive the signal and rebroadcast it, can travel around the whole world.

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Lunch Hour Lectures: International Law and the protection of cultural property in war

Thomas Hughes9 February 2016

Unusually for a Lunch Hour Lecture, Professor Roger O’Keefe (UCL Laws) spoke without the support of slides for nearly an hour about international efforts to protect cultural heritage in war zones – because he believed that images illustrating instances of cultural damage would simply be too depressing.

By Bernard Gagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12163785

Monument Arch in Palmyra, Syria. Now destroyed by IS.

International law

International law prohibits the damaging of cultural sites during war, and almost all UN member states have signed up to this. These agreements are often criticised however for failing to protect a number of cultural sites from damage or destruction.

This has particularly been the case in the Syrian civil war, where a number of high profile sites such as crusader castles and ancient temples have been damaged.

However, as Professor O’Keefe pointed out, few laws are perfect: for example, people still carry out murder despite strong laws against it and serious punishments for this crime. In his view, the law against the damaging of cultural heritage sites, while not perfect, makes important efforts to protect these historical areas.

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