CHAST public science talks at University of Sydney

3 CHAST (www.chast.org) lectures:

Why we cannot make life

Professor Bert Meijer, Molecular Sciences, Organic Chemistry, Eindhoven University of Technology and 2011 Cornforth Foundation Lecturer, University of Sydney

Where: Old Geology Lecture Theatre, Edgeworth David Bldg, University of Sydney, map: http://bit.ly/hmm5U8

When: Wednesday 31 August, 6:30-7:30pm.   Free admission, no bookings.  All welcome.

Abstract: “The origin of life on earth” is without doubt one of the most intriguing scientific topics, while the wish to create life in a laboratory is amongst its most difficult challenges. The enormous progress in science and technology over the past decades has provided many deep insights into the miraculous composition and functioning of living systems. Today, on the one hand, we can clone sheep, grow organs from stem cells, while cells, plants, animals and bacteria have been genetically modified. On the other hand, the synthesis of small and large molecules has become so sophisticated that almost every molecule that exists on earth can now be made in a laboratory, including long strands of DNA, proteins and complex drugs that can cure diseases. These many insights, however, also show the complexity of the molecular biology of living cells. As a result, the astonishment about how life could ever have originated has further increased. The lecture will illustrate the greatest challenges that are encountered while seeking to understand the origin of life, including an explanation of why it will take a very, very long time before a living cell can be made in a laboratory out of its individual components, if it is possible at all. Special attention will be paid to the self-organization of complex molecular systems as a critical step in the building process.

E.W. “Bert” Meijer is Distinguished University Professor in the Molecular Sciences, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Eindhoven University of Technology and scientific director of the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems. After receiving his PhD degree at the University of Groningen, he worked for 10 years in industry (Philips and DSM). In 1991 he was appointed in Eindhoven, while in the meantime he has held part-time positions in Nijmegen and Santa Barbara, CA. Bert Meijer is a member of many editorial advisory boards, including Chemical Communications, Angewandte Chemie, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Bert Meijer has received numerous awards, including the 1999 Silver Medal of the Macro UK group, the Spinoza Award in 2001, the ACS Award for Polymer Chemistry in 2006, the AkzoNobel Science Award 2010. He is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science.

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Announcing a CHAST (www.chast.org) Lecture:

Numbers: Their Human Aspects. Perspective from Indigenous Cultures

Dr. Helen Verran, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne

Where: Old Geology Lecture Theatre, Edgeworth David Bldg, University of Sydney, map: http://bit.ly/hmm5U8

When: Tuesday 8 November, 5:30-6:30pm.   Free admission, no bookings.  All welcome.

Abstract: Many people spend a lot of time looking at numbers, or more to the point, looking through numbers at something else.  In this talk I take a look at numbers as such.  How can we ‘see’ numbers? And why would we want to? I will tell of the experience of working with teachers in primary school classrooms in Nigeria.  This had me recognizing that if we are going to understand how science might come to life as a significant cultural element in places like Nigeria we need a way to see the cultural lives that things like numbers have.  Having done some preliminary thinking with the help of Nigerian primary school children I turn to my experiences of working with Yolngu Aboriginal Australians who own lands in northeast Arnhem Land.  I will make a rather surprising analogy which I suggest can help us better understand the sorts of things numbers are.

Helen Verran is a Reader in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne. She has a PhD in metabolic biochemistry. For most of the 1980s she worked as a science lecturer in the Institute for Education at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria.  Her book Science and an African Logic (2001) was published out of this experience. Since she returned to Australia she has worked with Yolngu Aboriginal communities in northeast Arnhem Land an early product of this work was the small book Singing the Land Signing the Land now available on-line. http://singing.indigenousknowledge.org/ which provides background for her CHAST Lecture.

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The 2011 Templeton Lecture (www.chast.org):

The Emotional Brain

Professor Joseph LeDoux, Center for Neural Science, New York University

Where: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney, map: http://bit.ly/qHUKUd

When: Monday 17 October, 6:00-7:30pm.   Free admission, no bookings.  All welcome.

Abstract: The study of emotion has been hampered by a fixation on feelings.  Feelings are important, but not all important.  Problems arise when we use feelings, and their semantic labels, as guides to studying brain function in other animals.  Rather than imposing concepts based on human introspective experience to the brains of other creatures, we should attempt to understand how the human brain is similar to the brains of other animals. This then becomes a foundation for understanding differences between humans and other animals. I propose that much of what is called emotion in studies of other animals is accounted for by the operation survival circuits, circuits involved in defense, energy/nutrition supplies, fluid balance, thermoregulation, and procreation. These circuits are highly conserved in mammals, including humans. While the behavioral expression of survival circuits can be species-specific, the circuits are species-general. Some other approaches also emphasize the adaptive function of emotions, but typically define emotions in terms of feelings. Survival functions are the real topic in most animal studies of emotion. By focusing on the adaptive function itself (rather than the behavioral expression or the conscious consequences) of survival circuits we have a way of characterizing phenomena that fall under the rubric of “emotion” in all mammals (perhaps all animals) without recourse to feelings. Feelings are what happens when consciousness witnesses the overall outcome (in the brain and body) of survival circuit activation. Feelings, which cannot be studied scientifically in non-human organisms, are neither necessary nor sufficient to understand survival circuits and their functions. By reorienting the comparative study of emotions around survival circuit functions, we have the opportunity to understand similarities and differences in emotional functions between humans and other animals.

2 thoughts on “CHAST public science talks at University of Sydney

  1. Hi Alex,

    Can I post these lectures on my blog? I’ll put a link to your blog on the posting.

    My email is freeeeventssydney@gmail.com

    Anna

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