08/2021: Math (V Neale)

Time and Date:
Abingdon, Thursday 19 August, 2021 from 19:30

Important Change:
Due to circumstances beyond our control, we can hold this even in-person, but will Stream it again on YouTube. Check here for details.

Title: Scarves, Symmetry, and Solving Equations

Through knitting, I’ve been exploring the symmetry patterns in scarves. How many different types of scarf pattern are there? And what does this have to do with (not) finding a formula to solve certain types of polynomial equation?

Speaker: Vicky Neale

Nicky Neale did her PhD in Cambridge about analytic number theory and additive combinatorics. She is now the Whitehead Lecturer at the Mathematical Institute and Balliol College at the University of Oxford. Part of her role is to be enthusiastic about mathematics with undergraduates, school students, and the wider public and she has a page about these activities. She has appeared on several BBC Radio 4 and TV programmes. Vicky enjoys mathematical craft of various types and has written two books, Why Study Mathematics? and Closing the Gap: the quest to understand prime numbers.

07/2021: Atomic Spy (F Close)

Time and Date:
Abingdon, Thursday 22 July, 2021 from 19:00 for 19:30 (change of date)
Abingdon United Football Club (Northcourt Rd, OX14 1PL, Abingdon)

This event will be delivered in person again. Anyone who was an active member of the society prior to the pandemic halting our in person talks, or who have joined this year, will have their membership honoured until January next year (2022). This means that for any members, this event is free! For guests, our original costs will be reinstated at £3 per person, free for under 18s. No booking required. See home page for COVID restrictions.

Trinity: A real life story of ATOM spies – How GCHQ exposed Klaus Fuchs, but the FBI stole the credit.

Trinity was the codename for the test explosion of the atomic bomb in New Mexico on 16 July 1945. Frank tells the story of the bomb’s metaphorical father – Oxford professor, Rudolf Peierls; Peierls’ intellectual son, the atomic spy and Abingdon resident Klaus Fuchs; and the ghosts of the security services in Britain, the USA and USSR. Frank has found new insights from MI5 files in the National Archives and documents of the FBI and KGB about Fuchs’ treachery. These reveal that in addition to telling the Soviet Union everything about the atomic bomb, Fuchs passed key information about the H bomb much earlier than previously realised. Frank has also discovered that Fuchs was not exposed by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, as has been believed for decades, but by the cryptographers at GCHQ, He also solves a mystery of 70 years:  why did Fuchs’ colleague at Harwell, Bruno Pontecorvo, defect from his home in Letcombe Avenue to the USSR six months after Fuchs’ arrest?

Frank Close’s talk is based on two of his recent books: “Half Life – the divided life of Bruno Pontecorvo, physicist or spy?” and his latest, the highly acclaimed “Trinity – The treachery and pursuit of the most dangerous spy in history”, about atomic spy Klaus Fuchs.

Speaker: Frank Close, OBE

is Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College. He was formerly Vice President of the British Association for Advancement of Science, Head of the Theoretical Physics Division at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Head of Communications at CERN. He is the author of more than 200 research papers and two-time winner of the Association of British Science Writers award.

06/2021: DNA Repair (R Smith)

Time: Thursday 17 June 2021 at 19:30

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event will be delivered online. More details can be found here.

DNA repair in focus:
Utilising fluorescence microscopy to study early DNA damage processes

In each cell of a human body, a copy of the entire genome is tightly packaged into the nucleus. Over the period of a life-time, the genetic material, DNA, can be damaged multiple times and left unrepaired, can result in the development of cancer. The tight packaging of the DNA within a cell can make it difficult to repair, therefore there are cellular systems in place to modulate the packaging and promote efficient repair. As manipulating these repair pathways is a common feature in the treatment of cancers, understanding how they work is essential for improving current treatments or in the development of new treatments. In this talk, Rebecca will present how her lab used fluorescent microscopy to gain insight into very early DNA repair events and how this work has helped identify new candidates for chemotherapy.

Dr Rebecca Smith completed a BSc (2011) and PhD (2015) in Biochemistry at Massey University, New Zealand.  She then moved to Europe to undertake post-doctoral studies at the LMU in Munich, Germany and the University of Rennes, France to continue investigating DNA repair processes with a variety of advanced fluorescence microscopy techniques. She currently works at the University of Rennes, France where her research currently focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of one of the earliest steps of DNA repair, poly-ADP-ribosylation, and how modulating this pathway can alter the efficacy of chemotherapeutic therapies.


05/2021: Artificial Intelligence (N Hawes)

Time: Thursday 20 May 2021 at 19:30

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event will be delivered online. More details can be found here.

An Uncertain Mission: Decision Making for Robots

Autonomous systems such as robots and voice assistants are becoming increasingly capable of performing useful actions such as moving between two locations or looking up information from a website. To go beyond single actions, an autonomous system needs an algorithms that can produce sequences of actions which allow it to achieve a user-specified goal (such as collecting then delivering a package, or booking a holiday).  Within the field of AI, such a capability is often referred to as mission planning. Creating mission planning algorithms to control robots is particularly challenging because the effects of robot actions are often uncertain, i.e. they only achieve the desired outcome with some probability. In this talk I’ll present our recent work on mission planning algorithms that model the uncertainty of robot actions, and talk about how we’ve applied the algorithms to controlling robots in a range of domains from greeting people in a hospital, to inspecting nuclear waste stores.


Professor Nick Hawes completed a BSc (1999) and PhD (2004) in Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the University of Birmingham, before completing post-doctoral positions at MIT’s Media Lab Europe in Dublin, and in the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham. From 2009, he led a research group around AI applied to robotics at Birmingham, progressing to the title of Reader in Autonomous Intelligent Robotics. Nick moved to Oxford in September 2017, joining the Oxford Robotics Institute as an Associate Professor and Pembroke College as a Tutorial Fellow.

Nick was selected to give the Lord Kelvin Award Lecture at the 2013 British Science Festival. This honour is given to an active researcher who has demonstrated outstanding communication skills to a general audience.


04/2021: Plant Roots (A Galloway)

Time: Thursday 15 April 2021 at 19:30

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event will be delivered online. More details can be found here.

Title: Plant Roots: A Ground-Breaking Perspective

Plants are incredible. They use a greenhouse gas to constructure their parts, are the basis of most food and medicine on Earth, and release a proportion of the oxygen that we depend on. In this talk I will focus on roots, which are a crucial organ that extract resources needed for growth and to anchor plants to soil. As well as extracting resources, they secrete molecules that can attract fungal partners to boost their growth. This fungal relationship has been shown to connect whole ecosystems such as forests. This network forms a protective buffer against hardship. The key molecules within this secretion are carbohydrates, and of particular interest polysaccharides (complex long-chain sugars) that can glue surrounding soil to the root surface. By maintaining this interface plants can secure resource uptake during drought. Some plants can even regulate this interface by tightening and loosening their grip on soil through polysaccharides

Speaker: Andrew Galloway

Andrew is a plant scientist, botanist and horticulturist. Andrew studied his undergraduate degree in horticulture at a Harper Adam University. During his time at university, he managed to get sponsored by a commercial grower to conduct research on growing tomatoes under polytunnel films that could enhance yield. Andrew also received his masters degree and decorate, as well as completing his first postdoc at the University of Leeds. His research specialised in plant-soil interaction. Andrew also completed a postdoc at the University of Tromsø, Norway studying plant-plant parasitism. At present Andrew works as the Research Coordinator for the Neuroimaging Centre at the University of Oxford.