Science & Technology

This Group is for anyone with a general interest in science and technology (and their histories). Most sessions will be “study and discuss”: either one person presenting a topic they are familiar with, or several members introducing short reviews of scientific interest stories from the media. We will tackle everything from the science of everyday to some of those big tricky questions. We aim to have at least one visit per term to one of the many science / technology related sites in London.

Frequency : Monthly
When : First Thursday, 2 p.m. for 2.30 – 3.30 p.m., including tea
Where : Wolseley Road, N8

Group Convener : Clare Smallman

To join the group please complete the contact form below. This form may also be used to contact the Convener on all matters relating to the Group.

Forthcoming dates, topics and topic leads

4 October 2018 – Charlie on Artificial Intelligence Implications

1 November 2018 – Alan on How Refrigeration got Ronald Resgan elected as POTUS

6 December 2018 – Clare as quiz master + a party

3 January 2010 – To be confirmed

7 February 2019 – Clive on The Cost of Science is Eternal Vigilance

March 2019 – Clare on A Not so Simple Inheritance; current ideas about human evolution

Topic reports

September 2018

Clare Smallman – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Gawande is an American surgeon and Being Mortal is his 4th brilliant book (“He could be a poet” said one of the group) reflecting on matters medical. Clare Smallman led a thoughtful and very participatory session considering aspects of managing the end of one’s life. Impossible to summarise, we can only recommend everyone reads the book and gives copies to everyone in the family.

July 2018

Lesley Chrysanthou – Diabetes: how sweet is your understanding?

Lesley’s session was full of lucid detail (with helpful diagrams) covering the various types (more than you’d think) of diabetes: their features, causes, distribution, treatment and outcomes (not good especially if you don’t manage your condition). Lesley’s personal experience of the medical, social and emotional mix of factors involved in a diabetes diagnosis made the session especially riveting.

June 2018

Helena Kania – How like us are animals? with a look at the theory of mind

Helena Kania opted to discuss the octopus family in her talk exploring animal behavior and how like animals we are. These extraordinary and intelligent invertebrates, with whom we shared a common ancestor 100’s of millions of years ago, are funny, devious and capable of the unexpected. Helena marshaled more than enough fascinating information to ensure that I for one will not be eating octopuses again.

May 2018

Tony Hetherington – Where 25% of your gas bill goes

This picture of Tony with his visual aid does not do justice to his engrossing talk about the current work replacing aging Victorian gas pipes with something more durable and safe. It was entertaining, funny and rather scary. I will never look at those mysterious white poles with orange lids you see in the country the same way again. Strange how knowledge transforms the way you see the world.

April 2018

Jeanette Murphy – Why systems fail, especially in healthcare

We have to live with failure because, if you don’t, you do nothing” was Jeanette Murphy’s conclusion at the end of a fascinating session. She shared her experience of working in the world of healthcare informatics over many years and through many initiatives. Objectives set for NHS IT in 1992 have hardly been met. The group explored some of the failures and successes, noting that many of the issues raised in implementing IT driven change are the case for other industries and results much the same. The NHS is just bigger and impacts all of us more directly, but, as in other areas, the problems are with people not the technology as such.

Want to know more? The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks (2nd ed. 1995), or the work of Manchester academic Professor Richard Heeks.

March 2018

Alan Whitehouse – Communicating science ideas to busy MPs

Well that was worth it“, was the parting comment from one of the group. March did its lion thing and most of the group braved the snow to listen to Alan Whitehouse share his experience of communicating science ideas to busy MPs. We were introduced to the the informal / formal and written/verbal processes which strive to ensure our law makers are adequately informed. Alan’s illustrations rang bells and triggered an interested discussion. Another excellent session.

February 2018

Georgina Frost : Design follow up to Wellcome visit

Georgina Frost led our discussion with a summary of the “Can Graphic Design Save your Life?” exhibition at the at the Wellcome Collection, and prompted debate with well placed questions. Many of the group had visited the exhibition and the discussion was wide ranging and thoughtful. A most enjoyable session.


“I didn’t think I was going to be interested in acoustics last time or graphics this time” said a group member as she left the February meeting. “I was wrong twice.”

January 2018

Jon Raper : Acoustics in Public Places or Why Some Restaurants are Hell

Here is Jon surrounded by bags of materials which can help improve the acoustics of public spaces. He took us through sound management basics, problems for professional acousticians, and specific issues (and options) for restaurants and concert halls. We had a “handling session”, the backgrounds to several problem buildings in London (“Oh that’s why….”), and a very lively discussion. I shall never look at a restaurant the same way again.

December 2017

Mike Holmes :Why Trees are the Wrong Colour

At the SIG’s first fascinating discussion, Mike Holmes topped and tailed his talk “Why Trees Are The Wrong Colour” with a review of the way memes and gene have similar longevity and unintended consequences. The “meme” story was the crazy size limitation of so many objects to 4 ft 8 1/2 inches wide. We followed links back through rail tracks, farm carts and rutted roads to the Romans and their enthusiasm for easily replaceable standard parts. The “gene” story pointed out that plants should be black or at least purple to absorb the most energy. Instead most absorb blue and red light and reflect the green / yellow higher energy wavelengths. Mike took us back to the origins of life on earth. Bacteria made an initial breakthrough using yellow / green light, “and the seas turned purple”. Others had to manage on the light that made it through the haze. They stumbled on chlorophyll which had extra potential and some serious side effects. When the various subsequent disasters cleared, the winners on land had green pigment inherited from their ancestors.