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PubhD Sheffield - Event #16 - April 2018

Wednesday 4th April 2018

· public speaking,events

The nights are light and our bellies are full of goodies from the Easter break. So,
what better way to wake from our chocolate comas, than to hear from three bright-
eyed and bushy-tailed rabbits – err, we mean researchers – at our latest PubhD
Sheffield event?!

Our first speaker, Ben Kirkup, is actually a final year PhD student at the University of
East Anglia, who was visiting Sheffield to give a seminar at the University of Sheffield
the next day! Ben is a cancer immunologist who looks into how immune cells are
capable of destroying cancer cells. He explained that all cells display ‘little flags’ on
their surfaces, and usually cancerous cells have ‘suspicious flags’ that cause immune
cells to raise the alarm and kill them. However, some cancers can show ‘decoy flags’,
hiding the fact they are cancerous and allowing them to grow unharmed by the
immune system. Ben’s work particularly focuses on immune cells in the gut and how
manipulating the bacteria in the gut could actually help fight breast cancers! In the
gut, you have a ‘microbiota’ – which encompasses all bacteria and living organisms
living there. Your microbiota is often very diverse, but can be disrupted by your diet,
medicines, and particularly by antibiotics. Ben explained that over 80% of breast
cancer patients typically have a mastectomy, with a course of antibiotics given
afterwards to help fight infections. He stated that the disturbance in gut microbiota,
by this course of antibiotics, could be leading to a fall in trained immune cells which
are then able to fight breast cancer cells. His research has specifically looked at
finding important bacteria and specific antibiotics which could be used to help
improve the outcome for chemotherapy patients – however, his research group
currently have a patent in progress so he can’t tell us what the specific bacteria is
yet! Ben hopes that this could pave the way for a new, tailored treatment for breast
cancer patients and a brighter outcome for those going through mastectomy
procedures in the future.

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Our second speaker, Farhad Allian, is a first year PhD student in the Maths department at the University of Sheffield. He uses maths to try and understand the Sun’s atmosphere, in a field known as Coronal Seismology. But what is this? Farhad starts by asking us what we think the surface temperature of the sun is – it’s about 6000 Kelvin (and that’s hot)! He then asked us to think about the flame of a lighter, and how the temperature of the flame feels colder when you move your hand away from it. This makes sense to us, right? But then he tells us that the atmosphere of the Sun is actually close to 3,000,000 Kelvin – almost 500x hotter than the surface! Farhad explained that this is because of the magnetic nature of the Sun’s plasma, a state of matter where the charged particles are highly ionised and electrically conductive. The study of the evolution of plasma in the presence magnetic fields is known as magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). Farhad aims to mathematically model the movement of these plasmas, and the oscillatory patterns it often exhibits due to nearby energetic events. There are three main types of waves observed here: slow, Alfvén and fast. The slow and fast waves are further classed as being ‘kink’ or ‘sausage’ waves, with (standing) kink waves being the most frequently observed and easily identifiable in solar dynamics. In order to obtain data from the sun, Farhad uses space-borne telescopes and images of the Sun to measure the oscillations in the plasma. He can then use these data to verify his mathematical models and help us understand more about the Sun’s atmosphere, and how this could influence Earth in the future.

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Our final speaker was James Whitworth, a first year Journalism PhD student at the
University of Sheffield and cartoonist for the Sheffield Star newspaper. James started
by introducing us to the concept of ‘pocket cartoons’. He explained that these are
distinct from traditional news cartoons or prints; they aim to be topical, often
political, but also quite funny. He explained that cartoons in newspapers are a fairly
modern affair, but that similar prints and drawings can be dated back into the 18 th
century. For example, William Hogarth was a central figure during the 1750s,
producing detailed and satirical prints, with ‘Gin Lane’ being his most famous after
the 1751 Gin Act was introduced. These sorts of prints used to be very popular and
could often be enjoyed as light evening entertainment in a pre-technological era.
During this time, a lack of media censorship allowed topical cartoons to grow in
popularity – much to the dismay of politicians. Over the 19 th century, they gradually
transformed from detailed prints into editorial news cartoons. These were still very
detailed and displayed serious topical events, drawn across half a page of a
newspaper. Editorial cartoons were almost supplementary to news articles and
didn’t evolve much for about 150 years. It wasn’t until the 1930s that pocket
cartoons – named after pocket battle ships, not their convenient size – arrived, that
things started to look a little different. It was on 1st January 1939, that Osbert Lancaster
was the first to draw a pocket cartoon – something that was simple, funny and
accompanied by a short caption or tagline. James is researching the impact of pocket
cartoons, whether they follow the editorial of the papers they are in and what the
readers actually feel about them. He believes these types of cartoons have had a
great impact on our political history. He will be using the government’s mass
observation survey data to gauge opinions of the population across the years.

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We would like to say a massive thank you to our speakers for sharing their work with
us and for bringing such a lovely range of topics to the pub!
We also want to wish good luck to our co-organiser, Emily, who is moving to
Cambridge for a new job as a Science Communicator. We’re sure this isn’t the last
we’ll hear from her though!
Our next event will be on Weds 2nd May, 7pm at The Old Queens Head – see you
Emily + Devon

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