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Birkbeck, Science Week

Birkbeck, School of Science

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Birkbeck, Science Week

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Birkbeck Science Week 2013

We are pleased to announce that we will be running the popular Science Week again on 15th - 18th April 2013. There will be a series of free lectures throughout the week designed to be accessible to the public.

There will be talks from Professor Bonnie Wallace and Dr Richard Hayward of Biological Sciences, Professor Michael Thomas and Professor Jonathan Smith of Psychological Sciences, and Professor Gerald Roberts and Dr Phil Hopley of Earth & Planetary Sciences.

You can book for as many lectures as you want to attend. Each lecture is around 45 minutes to an hour.

Head over to our programme listing or view the full details below to find out more about what we've got planned for the week.

The week begins with  a series of  Taster Sessions, which will give interested prospective students a chance to sample what our courses entail, and also to get some of their questions about studying science at Birkbeck answered.

A promotional poster is available here.


A list of all of the Science Week lectures is given below plus the Taster Session event which is on Monday 15th April.  Please book for each lecture seperately.


Science Week Taster Sessions

Monday April 15th 5.30pm – 7.00pm (Please arrive by 5.15 as there will be a

welcome talk given to all attendees about the School of Science).

Birkbeck Science Taster Sessions

A series of sessions which will give interested prospective students a chance to sample what our courses entail, and also to get some of their questions about studying science at Birkbeck answered.   Subject specialisms cover Biological Sciences, Earth and Planetary Sciences and Psychology.


Science Week Lectures

Tuesday April 16th 4pm        

Dr Phil Hopley

Climate Change and Human Evolution

Describing how past climate changes have shaped our evolutionary history, Dr Philip Hopley presents new evidence for the environmental context of human evolution in Africa. 


Tuesday April 16th  6pm       

Professor Gerald Roberts

Earthquakes in Italy: the role of the historical record of earthquakes and geology.

Italy, like many places associated with the boundaries of the Earth’s tectonic plates, has a long history of devastating earthquakes responsible for loss of life and damage to infrastructure. Recently, the magnitude 6.3, L’Aquila 2009 earthquake (309 deaths), has thrown the study and public understanding of such events into disarray because 7 scientists have been convicted of manslaughter. They were accused of “falsely reassuring L’Aquila’s citizens” (Science, Vol 338, p. 589, 2nd November 2012). This lecture will review how the scientists got into this position and, using a perspectives from the record of 21 earthquakes that have occurred near L’Aquila since 1349 A.D., and lessons from the geology, suggest a way forward. The lecture will show the damage from the earthquake, the pattern of earthquake shaking through the centuries, the active faults that have hosted the earthquakes, methods for strengthening buildings and a new method for measuring the time since the last earthquake on particular faults.


Wednesday April 17th 4pm  

Professor Michael Thomas 

The latest findings in autism research

Description: I outline recent advances in our understanding of autism, including at the genetic and brain levels. I discuss issues with respect to diagnostic criteria, the debate over whether the prevalence of autism is increasing, the possibility of genetic testing or brain-imaging as a method for screening, and the effectiveness of intervention. I then introduce a new hypothesis of the underlying cause of autism, which has stemmed from work investigating developmental regression, the apparent reversal of cognitive development that some children with autism show in the second year of life. The new hypothesis proposes that autism is caused by aggressive pruning of brain connections, an exaggeration of a normal phase of brain development that occurs during early childhood. The hypothesis makes a number of novel predictions about the early emergence of symptoms in autism. I review some of the new evidence coming from studies of babies 'at risk' of autism, such as those of the BASIS network in the UK, with respect to the novel predictions.

Wednesday April 17th 6pm  

Dr Richard Hayward

Sex, drugs and rock n' roll: Chlamydia - unlocking the secrets of a stealth pathogen

Ever increasing numbers of disease-causing bacteria are becoming resistant to treatment with antibiotics, our weapon of choice for many decades. Consequently it is now even more important for us to understand the molecular basis of bacterial infections and seek new ways to combat them.

Chlamydia trachomatis remains the leading bacterial cause of sexually transmitted infection worldwide. In Developing nations chlamydial-induced blindness - called trachoma - is widespread and is classified as a neglected tropical disease. Despite this significant medical impact we know surprisingly little about its disease mechanisms.

I will describe how we are employing molecular and cellular approaches to investigate how Chlamydia interacts with host cells at Birkbeck. I will illustrate the remarkable ability of this pathogen to manipulate its host at a molecular level, and what hints this gives us about how we might diagnose and treat infections in the future. I will also consider the prospects for developing a future chlamydial vaccine and the challenges that remain.

Thursday April 18th 4pm      

Professor Bonnie Wallace

Sodium Channel Structures and Cardiovascular and Neurological Diseases: Developing Novel Pharmaceutical Drugs

The transit of sodium ions across membranes via voltage-gated sodium channels is the first step in triggering the electrical impulse along a neuron.  Sodium channels are found in brain and peripheral nerves as well as in cardiac tissue, and mutations in them result in a large number of diseases called channelopathies.  These include epilepsy, a range of cardiovascular diseases and chronic pain, making sodium channels the targets for a large number of pharmaceutical drugs.  Because it is important that drugs specifically target the sodium channels in the appropriate tissues, knowledge of the 3-dimensional structures of these channels is critical for rational drug design.  This talk will describe our studies on the structure and dynamics of sodium channels, and how knowledge of their mechanism of opening and closing provides a powerful tool for understanding the underlying basis of many diseases and the development of new pharmaceuticals for their treatment.


Thursday April 18th 6pm      

Professor Jonathan Smith 

Making sense of medical genetics

Increasingly, genetic medical information of potential significance is available to individuals. This raises complex personal, relational and ethical issues. I have been involved in a programme of research using in-depth interviews to examine how individuals make sense of this new genetic world and I will talk about some of this research here. The type of questions we will be exploring are:

•          How does someone decide whether or not to take a genetic test?

•          What sense do people make of test results?

•          How is genetic test information communicated through families?

I will be drawing from research on a number of different conditions for which genetic testing is now available.




Do you have questions about Birkbeck, Science Week? Contact Birkbeck, School of Science


Room B36
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street
WC1E 7HX London
United Kingdom

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Birkbeck, School of Science

School of Science

Athena SWAN Logo; small The School of Science provides first-class research facilities and a high-quality teaching and learning experience for all of its students.

From using innovative computer programmes to discovering how babies learn to investigating coastal erosion, our staff are engaged in groundbreaking, internationally recognised work.

Why study with us?

  • We have strong industry links
  • We have an international reputation for pioneering research
  • We offer a range of innovative courses at all levels

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