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PubhD Sheffield - Event #17 - May 2018

This month, the organisers of PubhD changed hands! This was the first event ran by the new organisers, Amber, Holly, Ffion, and Jack, and we would like to say a big thank you to Devon and Emily for all their hard work running PubhD for the past two years!

The evening kicked off with a talk from 3rd year Biomedical Sciences PhD student, Jonny Coates. Jonny’s talk, titled “A several nation army: blood, flies, and immunity” began by telling us how blood cells (which we usually know as red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body) originally functioned in the immune system. In fact, flies “blood cells” function to fight off infection. The cells in flies that do this are called “hemocytes”, and we have these cells in our bodies too (called macrophages). There are two types of macrophages: M1 (which respond to infections in the body and fight them), and M2 (which eat dead cells that would otherwise cause inflammation!). Jonny tells us that in disease, there is a shift in the balance of these cells in our bodies. Initially, there is an M1 response which fights the infection. This is followed by an M2 response, which removes dead cells and begins the healing process. Jonny states that this is actually very complicated and as such, we need a simple system to study it in. This is where the flies come in! Jonny brought in genetically mutated flies to show us the model he works on and passed them round. Some of the flies had curly or straight wings and red or white eyes, and Jonny tells us that they know what the fly’s genetics are just by the physical attribute it has. He goes on to tell us that flies are a great model to study as you can easily manipulate their genes and it only takes 10 days to get new flies (Jonny spends a lot of his time getting flies to mate!). By mating the flies, you can cross their genes and label all of the blood cells green. Then Jonny takes the embyros and analyses their cells under the microscope by shooting them with lasers! Jonny rounds off his talk by telling us that fly macrophages are actually understudied and his project is to prove that these M1 and M2 states exist in flies! He says he may have found a subpopulation of cells in the flies that respond to infection and could be the M1 macrophage! Thanks Jonny for a great talk and showing us the flies!

Our second speaker of the evening was a 3rd year Physicist, David Hurst. David’s talk was titled “The state of Schrodinger’s cat” and he begins by telling us he wanted to talk about what made him interested in quantum mechanics in the first place. He pulls out two pens, a blue pen, and a black pen, and tells us to imagine we live in a universe where only blue and black pens exist. He then puts both the pens behind his back and tells us to guess which colour is in his left hand, to which the audience responds “blue!”, “black!”. The pen is black, but David tells us that there is a 50% chance that the pen is black or blue – makes sense so far! He then tells us that no matter which colour we had guessed; the pen was always black. The fact that it was black was “reality before it was measured”. This seems very logical to us! However, David then states that quantum mechanics says this isn’t true! Quantum mechanics says that (in the microscopic world at least) the state of the pen is black, but the state of the pen is also blue! But as soon as you measure the pen (i.e. it is revealed from behind David’s back), it falls into one of the two categories, and we find out the pen is black, However, before it is revealed, we have no way of knowing what colour the pen is! We then move on from pens to atoms. David explains that atoms are made up of a positively charged nucleus which is orbited by negatively charged electrons. The further away from the nucleus the electron is, the higher its energy state. Electrons can emit energy (e.g. light) to fall to a lower energy state closer to the nucleus – this is what happens in sodium street lamps! David then asks us to imagine we put an atom in a sealed box with an electron in its high energy state. If we then leave it for 30 minutes and come back to the box, David states there is a 50:50 chance that the electron is still in its high energy state, or the electron has emitted energy and fallen to a lower energy state. David tells us to now imagine that in the box, there is also something to detect the energy that the atom might emit, a weight under the detector, a vile of cat poison under the weight, and a cat! If we then leave for 30 minutes and return to the box, there are two possibilities. One – the atom is in its high every state, it has not emitted any energy, the detector has not detected anything, the weight doesn’t fall, and the vile of cat poison isn’t broken – so the cat is alive! However, the second possibility is that the atom has decayed and released energy, which is detected by the detector, which causes the weight to fall and break the vile of cat poison and the cat is dead! David tells us without looking in the box there is no way of knowing if the cat is dead or alive! This is what quantum mechanics tells us – that the cat is both dead and alive at the same time! He finishes his talk by telling us that there are many interpretations of this – the “shut up and calculate it” approach – of course the cat can’t be both dead and alive at the same time! Or another interpretation is that as soon as we open the box and look at the cat, we get entangled with the cat and the universe branches off into two – one in which the cat is alive, and one in which it is dead! Seems crazy but David tells us that there is absolutely nothing to prove this wrong! Thank you to David for a really interesting talk, and not actually harming any cats!

To round of the evening, we had 1st year PhD student in the History Department, Izzy Carter, talking about “Multi-storey council housing in post-war Britain”. Izzy begins by telling us that for her research, she classes multi-storey housing as anything that is over 6 storeys high. After WWII, the labour government wanted to improve housing and rehouse working class citizens from slum housing in the inner city to suburbs on the periphery of the city. Slum housing in the city centre was considered unhealthy as the centre was the industrial zone and living in the residential areas at the periphery would be much healthier. However, there was not enough land to rehouse everyone! So they began to expand the city by building huge estates and the government encouraged high state building. Contractors were offered more money the higher they built! Izzy tells us that this was a revolutionary way of living as this houses included all the mod cons like an inside bathroom, and washers! Izzy states that nowadays high rise estates are viewed as declining or in disrepair and that these estates are often stigmatised as being associated with drug abuse, vandalism, and crime. Izzy is looking at 3 case studies to investigate how multi-storey council housing has developed this stigma. She is studying Park Hill in Sheffield, Hulme in Manchester, and Trellick Tower in London. She explains that these were initially thought to be desirable places to live but in the 80s, these became associated with a reputation for crime and poverty, and people no longer wanted to live there. To investigate why social perception of these estates has declined, Izzy is how these estates and the people who live there were represented in the media over the years. Izzy goes on to explain how the Crescents in Hulme are 6 storey blocks that dominate the estate and how these are associated with crime and poverty, but how the whole area of Hulme also has this representation just from one development! She is also looking into local council and authority sources to determine how social perception effects the day to day lives of those living there. For example, she tells us there are reports of people who are unable get jobs, have takeaways delivered to their houses, or get taxis to pick them up simply because of where they live! Interestingly, Izzy tells us that she has reviewed accounts from tenants of Park Hill from BBC Radio Sheffield, and that tenants wanted to be a community and not have the bad image they were getting from the media! She ends her talk by telling us that residents can’t be generalised as everyone’s experience is subjective! Some people believe “what’s the point in funding high rise estates if no one looks after them?”, whilst others are keen to be members of the community and bring back community spirit! Thanks to Izzy for a thought-provoking talk and showing us how media can change social perceptions!

We would like to say a big thank you to all our speakers for sharing their work with us!

Our next event is 6th June 2018, 7pm. We hope to see you there!

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