News within the department
Free public lecture from Penny Young, Chief Executive of NatCen Social Research, will explain how the group’s British Social Attitudes survey helps chart sensitive issues among the British public
Professor Karen Brown
Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine
Only ~5-10% of cancers are caused by single inherited genes; the majority of cases can be attributed to our lifestyle, diet and the environment and it has been estimated that up to half of all cancers may be preventable. Equally, there is some evidence that certain dietary constituents such as fibre, fruit and vegetables may help protect against particular cancers but proving these associations is extremely challenging. My research to date has focussed on two overlapping aspects of cancer prevention; initially I was interested in understanding how DNA-damaging chemicals such as the drug tamoxifen which is used for breast cancer treatment and prevention, and the food mutagen PhIP, which is formed in meat upon cooking, cause cancer. The ultimate goal of this work was to identify ways to reduce exposure and/or the risk to individuals through a greater appreciation of the underlying mechanisms. Building on this experience my research naturally progressed to the development of chemopreventive agents that people can take to lower their chances of developing cancer. There is increasing evidence from clinical trials that cancer chemoprevention in humans is feasible. However, it is vital that the agents used are absolutely safe since they will be taken on a long-term basis by high-risk healthy people, and this has ruled out several promising pharmaceutical drugs that can cause serious side effects. Chemicals derived from the diet, such as resveratrol (contained in red wine and peanuts) and curcumin (a constituent of the curry spice turmeric) are considered an attractive alternative as they are likely to have a favourable safety profile. We have therefore concentrated our efforts on naturally occurring compounds. As a group, our research spans the discovery of new chemopreventive agents, preclinical screening, and elucidation of the mechanisms of action through to early phase clinical trials. I will share some of our recent highlights and the challenges we face in translating these agents from our laboratory to the clinic, along with some of our ambitions and hopes for the future.
Professor Chris Wallace
Department of Economics
Game theory is the (mathematical) study of strategic interaction. Economists and game theorists have, by and large, reached a consensus on what kind of behaviour ought to be predicted in simple one-shot interactions (so-called "strategic games"): the actions of the agents should form a Nash equilibrium. However, there is no guarantee that any given game has a single Nash equilibrium —quite the reverse: most games of interest to social scientists typically will have many many equilibria. In such instances the question is not whether the agents will play a Nash equilibrium in the first place, but rather on which one of the many available they will coordinate.
Traditional game-theoretic approaches (for instance, the vast "refinements" literature of the 1970s and 80s) have not been able to offer a satisfactory solution to the problem of coordination in games.
Rather, it was inspiration from the evolutionary games literature in theoretical biology that provided a potential answer to this question. Stochastic evolutionary dynamics, developed by game theorists in economics in the late 1980s and early 1990s allow the analyst to "select" a single equilibrium in some of the most interesting coordination games. Such selection admits an easy interpretation in terms of the risks facing the agents making their choices in the game.
However, it soon became clear that the arguably ad hoc modelling assumptions of these early attempts to choose between equilibria were critical to the selection criterion. A more convincing approach needed a careful micro-foundation for the specific stochastic evolutionary dynamic employed. One such approach—introducing the requisite randomness through the agents' own preferences—not only (largely) reinforces the central message of the earlier work in stochastic evolutionary games, but also allows the analysis of larger and more interesting games. Several of these games lie at the very core of the discipline: the study of the production and provision of public goods is something with which every undergraduate economics student should be familiar. Stochastic evolutionary approaches offer new and complementary insights into the reasons for the success or failure of general collective actions of this type.
Professor Hongbiao Dong
Department of Engineering
Processing of metals is a science, art and hobby and its history can be dated back to 5000BC when small pieces of copper were hammered and ground to make the first tools and weapons. Nowadays, metal processing, through innovation, has been industrialised and is the most economic and effective way to make individual parts, assemblies or large scale structures. Most important innovations in metal processing throughout history were made through trial and error experiments. However this has changed dramatically over the last 20 years as computational modelling becomes a more and more powerful tool in metal processing research.
In this lecture I will explain, through case studies, how to develop models for metal processing and how the models can be used to simulate metal processing. Simulations of the movement of iron atoms during steel solidification can reveal information that would not be available otherwise. Modelling how to grow a single crystal turbine blade that can operate at 1500C next to the combustion chamber of a modern jet engine is another example. These case studies demonstrate that predictions based on modelling can provide an innovative and more rapid way to design and optimise new processes than by the trial and error methods.
With the advances in computer modelling, metal processing is moving away from empirical choices of process variables to optimised processes producing designed components and structures. An integrated approach of materials, processing and modelling is emerging in manufacturing industry that has transformed the engineering process and unified design and manufacturing.
Professor Martin Dzelzainis
School of English
This lecture engages with the neglected topic of the relationship between the poet and politician Andrew Marvell (1621-78) and the Royal Society. While most aspects of Marvell’s post-Restoration life and writings been subjected to prolonged and intense scrutiny in recent years, his relation to this newly-founded institution – its members, activities, and interests – has been largely overlooked. However, as this lecture will demonstrate, it is now certain that he read Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal-Society of London, first published in book form in 1667. Moreover, a survey of Marvell’s writings reveals the remarkable extent to which his varied preoccupations – including, amongst other things, poisons, comets, and the properties of glass – overlapped with those of the Royal Society’s virtuosi. Can Marvell’s intellectual eclecticism, which is so often seen as an efflorescence of his so-called “metaphysical” wit, in fact be assimilated to the norms prevailing in the scientifically-minded community of his day?