The Science Café is a chance to informally explore the latest ideas in science and technology and debate the issues. All are welcome.

14th April: Engines for the future – very lean, but still mean

Chris BraceChris Brace
Professor of Automotive Propulsion, University of Bath

The engine power of modern cars is higher than ever in order to meet driver demand for luxurious and safe vehicles with exciting driving performance. Large engines do a great job, but most of the time the engine is operating at a tiny fraction of its maximum power and is therefore very inefficient. In the modern era of fuel efficiency and CO2 concerns there needs to be a better way.

‘Engine downsizing’ means using an engine with the efficiency of a small engine but the power of a large engine. The technical challenge is significant but downsizing can be used on all vehicles to deliver impressive fuel savings at modest additional cost using established manufacturing techniques and abundant materials.

A logical question to ask is “how far can we downsize?” This in turn leads to many questions – what are the practical problems that arise as we make the engine work harder and how can we overcome them? When we have downsized even further, will cars still be fun to drive?

This talk seeks to answer these important questions by discussing the past, present and future of downsizing, describing our research in this area and looking ahead to the type of propulsion systems that will power our cars into the future.

Link: Chris Brace

10th March: Organic food and farming: global saviour or a case of the emperor’s new clothes?

Dave Hughes Global Head of Technology Scouting at Syngenta

How can the world’s farmers possibly produce enough food to satisfy the appetite of the ballooning global population, whilst not devastating our environment in the process? This question is generating fierce debate, and many people believe that the best answer is to reject modern farming technologies and revert back to more traditional approaches such as Organic farming. Many people believe that Organic farming methods are better for the environment, and that they produce food which is more nutritious and safer to eat. During this talk I will critically examine the scientific evidence for these beliefs in the context of plotting the optimum course for the future of arable agriculture.

I am a synthetic organic chemist by training. After finishing a post-doctoral position in the USA I returned to the UK to join the agrochemical industry as a chemistry team leader, designing and synthesizing new potential pesticides. After ten years I moved to head a biochemistry and genetics group investigating how pesticides work at a molecular level. Five years later I moved to a role in external collaborations, and I am now global head of technology scouting for Syngenta: responsible for seeking out strategic relationships with universities and other companies around the globe in order to collaborate and co-develop new technologies for use in agriculture.

10th February: What to do with a million scientists – Citizen science and crowd-sourcing

Chris Lintott Astrophysicist, Oxford University and
‘The Sky at Night’ presenter

Chris Lintott is an astronomer at the University of Oxford where he is also a Research Fellow at New College. His own work focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies and he is Principal Investigator for Galaxy Zoo, the world’s most successful citizen science project. He leads the team of scientists, web developers and educators who build and operate the Zooniverse, a platform which has allowed more than 900,000 participants to discover planets, read ancient papyri and explore the Serengeti. His citizen science work was recognised in 2011 with the award of the Royal Society’s Kohn Award. A passionate advocate of the public understanding of science, he is best known as co-presenter of the BBC’s long-running ‘Sky at Night’ program, and as co-author (with Patrick Moore and Queen guitarist Brian May) of books including ‘Bang’, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Chris Lintott, Oxford
The Sky at Night