Fruitful discussions and sharing ideas at Clare College, Cambridge

Clareity Symposium 2019 Programme

The 2019 Clare College Research Symposium will take place on 14 March in the Gillespie Conference Centre, Clare College.

Clareity Symposium
14 March, 2019

10.00 Registration opens, Gillespie Centre (tea and coffee)
10.30 Welcome by the Paola Velasco Herrejon (Clareity President) and opening address by Dr Jacqueline Tasioulas (Senior Tutor), Riley Auditorium

Session A: 10.40-11:25

Chair: Peter Asimov, Former Clareity President

10:40 – 10:55 Navin Ramakrishna (Genetics/Gurdon Institute):
The Making of Sperm and Egg
10.55 – 11.10 Nicolás Valenzuela (Land Economy):
The rich or the poor: who are better recyclers? A look into two cities of the Global South
11.10 – 11.25 Peter van Hintum (Mathematics):
The Probabilistic Method; when mathematicians lose control

Session 2: 11.30-12:15

Chair: Dr. Mark Smith, Dean

11:30 – 11:45 Peter Ress (History and Philosophy of Science):
The Politics of Tacit Knowledge
11.45 – 12.00 Danielle Saunders (Engineering):
Adaptive Machine Translation: Can one neural network translate journalism and software manuals?
12.00 – 12.15 Matthew Nixon (Astronomy):
Remote Sensing of Extraterrestrial Worlds
12.15 – 12:55 Keynote lecture by Professor Paul Fletcher:
Mind Games: representing mental illness in video games
12.55 – 13.40 Lunch break

Session 3: 13.40-14.40

Chair: Nick Wise, MCR President

13.40 – 13.55 Scarlet O’Shea (Modern and Medieval Languages):
New Nations: Reconfiguring the Romantic
13.55 – 14.10 Lena Morrill (CRUK Cambridge Institutee):
Mutational marks in the genome
14.10 – 14.25 Ben Williams (Engineering):
Machine learning to automatically detect BOAS in dogs2
14.25 – 14.40 Olivia Hawkes (History and Philosophy of Science):
“The End of an Era”? Re-thinking the Decline of Sanatorium Treatment for Tuberculosis in Britain through the Survival of Papworth Village Settlement, 1948-1960

Dilettante Society Feature: 14.40 – 15.10

Chair: Theo Lillington, President of the Dilettante Society

14.40 – 15.10 Alexander Fitzgerald:
Wanderings amongst Words: ‘Everyday Etymologies and Forgotten Phrases’
15.10 – 15.30 Tea Break

Session 5: 15.30 – 16.15

Chair: Jonathan Townson, MCR Bar Manager

15.30 – 15.45 Paola Perrin de Brichambaut (Social Anthropology):
Artistic Responses to the War on Terror: A Study into the Consumption of Images of Torture as Pornography
15.45 – 16.00 Jack Brelstaff (Clinical Neurosciences):
Immune system attack on neurons in Alzheimer’s disease drives degeneration
16.00 – 16.15 Griffin Black (History):
An American Orator at the British Podium: Frederick Douglass and the Transnational Abolition Movement
16.15 – 16:55 Keynote lecture by Professor Jorge E. Viñuales:
In no one’s hands: The legal organisation of the Anthropocene
16.55 – 17.10 Short Tea Break

Session 6: 17.10 – 17.55

Chair: Dr. André Cabrera Serrenho, CRA Talks Coordinator

17.10 – 17.25 Merel Blok (History):
The Dutch Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
17.25 – 17.40 Andrea Paterlini (Plant Sciences):
Holes to be whole: plasmodesmata and transport in plants
17.40 – 17.55 Charlotte Garcia (MRC – Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit):
Estimation of neural activation patterns in cochlear implant users using constrained nonlinear optimization with electrically evoked compound action potentials to enhance speech perception

Session 7: 18.00 – 18.45

Chair: Paola Velasco Herrejón, Clareity President

18.00 – 18.15 Dr. Sam Wimpenny (Earth Sciences):
Earthquakes and the Controls on Mountain Building in the Andes
18.15 – 18.30 Ester Gurnari (Modern and Medieval Languages):
Cities of paper: heterotopia in Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Perec’s Species of Spaces
18.30 – 18.45 Dr. Harriet Lamb (Across-Departments):
Curing Violent Conflict
18.45 Closing of the Symposium Academic Dean, Professor Jonathan Goodman and Paola Velasco Herrejón
18.55 – 19.20 Wine reception in the Garden Room (everybody welcome)
19.30 Dinner for Speakers and Chairs


Session 1: 10.40-11:25

BThe Making of Sperm and Egg

Navin Ramakrishna, PhD Student, Department of Genetics, Gurdon Institute

The reproductive cells of the body represent what is essentially an ‘immortal’ cell lineage: sperm and egg are the only cells passed on, from generation to generation. It turns out that precursors to the gametes are set aside, or specified, as early as the second week of embryogenesis, with mature sperm and egg being rather unique with their specialised forms and halved genome contents.

As a geneticist and developmental biologist – someone who’s interested in how organisms grow and develop – I am interested in studying how this fascinating cell lineage is made in the embryo. In particular, I study one molecular aspect of this developmental process, by characterising the precursors to gametes at various stages of their development, and by using artificial cell culture model systems to complement our understanding of this process.

The rich or the poor: who are better recyclers? A look into two cities of the Global South

Nicolás Valenzuela Levi, PhD Student, Department of Land Economy

Recycling is a fundamental action if societies want to lower their natural resource use and stop sending waste to landfills. That is why promoting recycling is part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, when discussing ‘development’ and recycling, the access to resources emerges as a key issue. Who can consume recyclable products? Which governments have enough resources to provide effective recycling services? This research focuses on two metropolitan areas, Santiago in Chile and Medellín in Colombia. The relationship between income distribution and separate waste collection is analysed thanks to qualitative field work conducted in both cities and quantitative data collection to calculate each city’s separate collection rates. Issues such as the role of informal waste pickers, transnational corporations, and institutional contexts emerge as key pieces of the puzzle of sustainability in cities of the Global South.

The Probabilistic Method; when mathematicians lose control

Peter van Hintum, PhD Student, Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics

A riddle to warm up: Imagine 99 boxes each with some number of white balls and some number of red balls. Can you always choose 50 boxes with at least half of the red balls and at least half of the white balls?

Constructing examples of mathematical structures with some desired property can be difficult. Paul Erdős, the most prolific mathematician of the 20th century, pioneered a revolutionary non-constructive method of proving such examples exist. The probabilistic method relies on the fact that if something has a nonzero probability of happening, then there must be some scenario in which it happens.

We will explore this principle and see how, even without any advanced probability theory, we can derive non-trivial results. Moreover, we find that simple facts like the maximum is bigger than the average, have been used to solve longstanding problems.

More profoundly the notions underpinning the probabilistic might be considered the capitalist way of doing mathematics, akin to the machine learning approach to programming. Letting go of absolute control over our system in order to let it assume the desired shape by itself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of loosening the grip on our parameters?

Session 2: 11.25-12.10

The Politics of Tacit Knowledge

Peter Rees, PhD Student, Department of History and Philosophy of Science

The notion of the tacit refers to that which is not, or cannot, be articulated in formal language or made explicit, but is rather implied, or inferred, or understood. The doctrine of tacit knowledge has become important for wide-ranging aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century thought in science, economics, and religion. This talk analyses the notion of tacit knowledge as a political concept.

Adaptive Machine Translation: Can one neural network translate journalism and software manuals?

Danielle Saunders, PhD Student, Department of Engineering

Neural networks achieve impressive results when translating between human languages. However, they are typically trained with example translations from a single genre of text, or domain. A system may therefore do well when translating news reports, for which large amounts of data is available, but fail when given a new, smaller domain, such as technical material. Simply continuing training on data from a new domain results in ‘catastrophic forgetting’: a model may become very good at technical translation, but lose the ability to translate news reports. I will discuss ways to address this adaptation problem in machine translation, resulting in systems which translate well over overlapping and disparate domains.

Remote Sensing of Extraterrestrial Worlds

Matthew Nixon, PhD Student, Institute of Astronomy

Recent decades have seen major advancements in the understanding and characterisation of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets (exoplanets). In this talk I will briefly outline the milestone achievements in the field, from the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere to recent molecular detections. I will also describe the current state-of-the art tools used to analyse telescope data and explain how I hope to further refine these tools through my research. Finally I will discuss future trends, including the possibility of using major new facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope to try to identify signs of life on other worlds, representing the holy grail of exoplanet science.

Mind Games: representing mental illness in video games

Keynote – Professor Paul Fletcher, Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience, Wellcome Investigator, Hon. Consultant Psychiatrist, Director of Studies for Preclinical Medicine, Clare College

One of the most difficult things about mental illness is that it is often hidden: usually invisible and frequently silent. This has important negative consequences for the sufferer and for those around them. Mental illness can be considered as less “real” than physical conditions, leading to stigmatisation and self-blame, and with the ensuing isolation the symptoms themselves become more powerful in their impact, increasing suffering that could otherwise be avoided.
Thus, representation – in all its forms – of mental illness and distress is very important. I will consider one area where such representation may be extremely powerful and where its potential has, in the past, been exploited in quite stigmatising ways. Video games, being active and participatory in nature, could provide a unique and deeply immersive setting in which to represent and explore the themes and experiences of mental illness. I will examine this potential and show how it might be used to have a positive impact.

Session 3: 13.30-14.30

New Nations: Reconfiguring the Romantic

Scarlet O’Shea, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages

In the context of the Lusophone world, the Angolan José Agalusa’s 1997 novel Nação Crioula and the Brazilian Machado de Assis’ 1882 novella O Alienista can both be viewed as the product of recently independent nations faced with the task of constructing a unifying national history in place of a narrative of colonisation and subjugation. As such, both texts are fundamentally concerned with the societies and identities of their respective ‘new’ nations. Nevertheless, this paper seeks to show how both authors ultimately reject the concept of a unified, homogenous nation with an idealised and shared history in favour of an authentic recognition of the problems inherent in societies heretofore subsumed by their colonial identity. The goal of a romantic narrative is replaced with a commitment to societal critique and realistic representation which denies absolutely the possibility of a naïve idealisation of their history.

Mutational marks in the genome

Lena Morrill, PhD Student, CRUK Cambridge Institute

Each of the cells in our body contains a copy of our genome, and during our lifetime these copies accumulate mutations. Many mutations are harmless -after all, we owe the differences between individuals to mutations- and others are not. Examples of the latter group are found in cancer genomes and might confer a selective advantage which results in rampant cell proliferation. In any case, and regardless of its biological impact, each mutation can be attributable to some mutational process, for instance a faulty DNA copying machinery, carcinogens or radiation. I study the processes that have led to the mutational toll of cancer genomes by identifying particular ‘imprints’, or ‘signatures’, that each process leaves in the genome.

Machine learning to automatically detect BOAS in dogs

Ben Williams, Undergraduate Student, Department of Engineering)

Brachycephalic or “flat-faced” dogs, such as pugs and bulldogs, are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. While undoubtedly cute, they are also highly prone to a breathing condition known as “Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome” (BOAS). Current diagnosis methods focus on one of two strands: the first places a subjective grade on each dog indicating the severity of their condition, whereas the second uses a ventilated chamber to characterise breathing patterns. Neither option is both objective and quick.

My project aims to use machine learning to automate the grading process, taking raw stethoscope recordings and outputting an independent score for each dog. While the small number of samples presents an interesting challenge, the nature of the problem allows several key simplifications to be made. I shall present my methods and current results that aim to surpass your local vet.

“The End of an Era”? Re-thinking the Decline of Sanatorium Treatment for Tuberculosis in Britain through the Survival of Papworth Village Settlement, 1948-1960

Olivia Hawkes, MPhil Student, Department of History and Philosophy of Science)

It has been widely believed, both by historians and contemporaries, that sanatorium treatment for tuberculosis in Britain became obsolete following the development of effective antibiotic treatment in the late 1940s. In this article, I examine how Papworth Village Settlement, a tuberculosis colony in Cambridgeshire, remained in operation throughout the period 1948-1960 by widening its admissions criteria to people with disabilities. I argue that this transition required the re-iteration of the principles under which it was established in the early twentieth century, thereby demonstrating the continuing relevance of sanatorium ideology well beyond the introduction of effective chemotherapy for tuberculosis.

Session 5: 15.00 – 16.00

Artistic Responses to the War on Terror: A Study into the Consumption of Images of Torture as Pornography

Paola Perrin de Brichambaut, PhD Department of Social Anthropology

The past research I would like to present focuses on the consumption of the visual culture emerging from the War on Terror, specifically looking at ways in which images of torture perpetrated in Abu Ghraib are conflated with pornography. The ideological framework and conditions of viewing favourable to the consumption of images of torture as pornography in the United States are extrapolated through an art historical lens by way of Coco Fusco’s performance piece A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America, drawing upon psychoanalysis, discourses of Orientalism, gender, and Judith Butler’s concept of ‘ungrievable lives’. In light of this kind of consumption, the question of ethical viewing is raised and the necessity of articulating a critical and self-aware viewership emphasised.

Immune system attack on neurons in Alzheimer’s disease drives degeneration

Dr. Jack Brelstaff, Research Associate, Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair and Neurology Unit

The mechanism of neuronal death in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is unclear but hugely important to the design of potential therapies. The presence of filamentous protein aggregates is associated with neuronal death and immune cell activation in patients and mouse models of disease. Microglia are phagocytitic immune cells that will eat living neurons if signals like phosphatidylserine (PtdSer) are exposed on their surface. Here we show neurons with filamentous tau protein aggregates expose these eat-me signals as they develop the aggregate. Cultured microglia will respond to this by secreting pro-inflammatory signals and engulfing the neuron thereby killing it. The filamentous protein aggregate is subsequently transferred into the microglia which then expels dangerous fragments that can seed new aggregates in new neurons by a templating mechanism.

An American Orator at the British Podium: Frederick Douglass and the Transnational Abolition Movement

Griffin Black, MPhil Student, Faulty of History

My work considers Frederick Douglass, the American escaped slave and abolitionist orator, as a transnational human rights activist. Current scholarship confines Douglass to his domestic achievements, escaping slavery and becoming a leading intellectual and publisher. In contrast, my research addresses transnational abolition—and, more broadly, intellectual exchange across the Atlantic—during the Civil War and constitutional rebirth of the United States. After publishing his Narrative in 1845, the newly-minted lecturer travelled to the British Isles and spent two years galvanizing international support for the abolition of American slavery. He began forging transatlantic ties, fundraising, republishing his autobiography, and engaging with other social issues. Moreover, Douglass perfected the rhetorical art of reworking and weaponizing national narratives to distil and display British and American hypocrisy. My research involves archival material from across the British Isles where Douglass stayed and lectured.

In no one’s hands: The legal organisation of the Anthropocene

Keynote – Professor Jorge E. Viñuales, Harold Samuel Chair of Law and Environmental Policy, Fellow of C-EENRG

Humans, at least some of them, have become a defining geological force. That could potentially be reflected in a revision of the Geological Time Scale which would replace our current epoch, the Holocene, for another epoch where human impacts are the reference, the ‘Anthropocene’. There is a vast body of literature using this prism to investigate the human footprint on the Earth system. Prominent in this literature are the references to the thermo-industrial revolution or the use of nuclear fission as both a weapon and a form of energy production. This lecture will consider another technology, which is in many ways the commanding one, in that it has the ability to turn on and off all the others: the legal organisation of the system that use such other technologies, and which could potentially bring them under control or even replace them with something else. By looking at law through the prism of the Anthropocene, we will also be looking at law as a particularly complex technology, which is not in the hands of any of us specifically, only of all of us acting as a whole.

Session 6: 17.10 – 17.55

The Dutch Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

Merel Blok, MPhil Student, Faculty of History

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), approximately 40,000 men and women travelled to Spain to fight in support of the Republican government, amongst them George Orwell and Andre Malraux. These volunteers challenged states’ Weberian monopolies on violence and nationalist conceptions of political space and solidarity, disagreeing with their governments’ policy of non-intervention in Spain. Amongst the foreigners in the Republican armies were over 600 volunteers from the Netherlands who violated their national legislation by joining a foreign force. Many of them became stateless as a consequence and would return to the Netherlands right before the German occupation in 1940. This talk will recount the Dutch men and women their experiences before, during and after the Spanish Civil War and discuss the formations of their political identities and networks.

Holes to be whole: plasmodesmata and transport in plants

Andrea Paterlini, PhD Student, Department of Plant Sciences, Sainsbury Laboratory

Plants present elaborate architectures with spatially separate organs. Rapid interconnection routes – transport “highways” – are therefore required to distribute nutrients and signals in an efficient and timely manner. Resource allocation and information relay are indeed strong determinants of plant growth. The phloem is one of such specialised conductive tissues. Traffic along the phloem “highway” is dependent on the structure and function of its “toll gates”: the plasmodesmata. These small wall-spanning channels connect neighbouring plant cells. Plasmodesmata, however, are not mere passive tunnels, they are an elaborate gating systems retaining tight control over which substances can move across. I will show you how structural changes disrupting these gates can locally affect cell-cell movement in the roots of plants.

Estimation of neural activation patterns in cochlear implant users using constrained nonlinear optimization with electrically evoked compound action potentials to enhance speech perception

Charlotte Garcia., PhD Student, MRC – Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit

Our ears are complex systems that translate sound from a physical waveform to a chemical signal to neural excitation that is perceived in the brain as sound. Cochlear Implants (CIs) contain a small electrode array which is surgically inserted into the cochlea of deaf patients and directly stimulates the neural tissue, bypassing the physical and chemical pathways for auditory perception. While CI users achieve hearing capabilities using their implants, they do so with varying degrees of success. Possible factors affecting performance include overlapping areas of neural excitation from adjacent electrodes (current spread), and areas of poor neural survival along the cochlea. Using a measure of neural activation measured along the length of the cochlea, the Electrically Evoked Compound Action Potential, a model of current spread and neural health can be generated. This information can in turn be utilized to set device settings for individual CI users and optimize speech perception.

Session E: 18.00 – 18.45

Earthquakes and the Controls on Mountain Building in the Andes

Dr. Sam Wimpenny, Research Associate, Department of Earth Science

Mountain belts are formed by shortening and thickening the Earth’s buoyant crust. Therefore, in mountain belts that are actively deforming, we might expect to see earthquakes generated by slip on faults that accommodate shortening. Curiously, in the Andes of south Peru most of the recent earthquakes show the complete opposite – they are caused by extension. I will present new field and geophysical observations for this extension and discuss its implications for the forces acting to support mountain belts, and how these may change through time.

Cities of paper: heterotopia in Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Perec’s Species of Spaces

Ester Gurnari, MPhil Student, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages

“The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history […]. The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space” argued Michel Foucault in his lecture titled Of Other spaces. Using his theoretical grid and the concept of heterotopia, I will try to understand how the space of the city is represented in postmodern literature through the analysis of two texts The Invisible Cities (1972) by the Italian Italo Calvino and Species of Spaces (1974) by the French Georges Perec. I will observe how we imagine and interrogate urban space and what is its relation with reality and with the readers trying to make sense of the labyrinths that Perec and Calvino created through their exceptional use of language and writing.

Heterotopia, as Foucault defines them, are: “real places—places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society—which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia, in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted”. We will expand this concept and understand if it is possible to read the space of the text itself as a heterotopia. My argument is that some texts that deal with the question of space and the theme of the city, as in the case of Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Perec’s Species of Spaces, can be read as heterotopia “a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the place in which we live”. By exploring the relation of the concrete space of the city and its textual materiality, the two writers designate space as a quest, as a doubt and the means through which they strive to achieve their goal is writing in all its materiality and potentiality thus building cities of paper in which the reader can wander and get lost.

Curing Violent Conflict

Dr. Harriet Lamb, Eric Lane Visiting Fellow

Violent conflict is rising across the world with more people being killed in battle, more civilians harmed by war and more becoming refugees than ever before. Our global political institutions are outmanoeuvred, offering tame solutions to the wicked problems, while Governments are turning inwards. Xenophobia and divisiveness are on the rise. In response, some argue we should invest more funds and resources into approaches that build peace, including those led by citizens. These are clearly necessary, but not sufficient given the challenges to our international political structures. So can we develop – and win political support for – a global narrative that addresses the needs of the marginalised at home, while also shaping new international systems? Could the cure for violent conflict actually be more global integration?