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

13th February 2017: Fungi – The Hidden Killers

Dr Stephanie Diezmann, Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath

While most of us think of pizza with mushrooms or pasta with truffles when hearing fungi, this kingdom is home to some potent microbial killers. Each year, ~700 people die in the UK alone of one of the most common fungal diseases called candidemia. This is as many if not more individuals than succumb to MRSA. But while MRSA has captured much of the public’s attention, fungal infections remain largely underappreciated, which is rather surprising, given that the top-ten most lethal fungi kill about 1.5 million individuals each year world-wide. This number is on par with malaria or tuberculosis.

Fungal infections are associated with unacceptably high mortality rates and inefficient treatment strategies. For example, the mold species most commonly infecting cancer patients will kill almost 90% of infected individuals. At the same time, fungi are rather effective in evolving drug resistances, further impinging on our already limited arsenal of antifungal drugs. It is thus not too surprising that fungal infections contribute significantly to hospital bills.

Here, I will present an overview of the three most common fungal killers, which together kill >190,000 patients each year in the UK alone. This includes the little we know about them and their life histories as well as the disappointingly limited treatment options currently available. While fungi haven given us bread, wine and penicillin, they are taking a toll on human health and life.

Link: Stephanie Diezmann

9th January 2017: The Importance of Plankton

Russell N. Arnott, Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath

Russell Arnott has been an oceanographer, science teacher, and punk-rock guitarist. As well as working as Outreach Officer for WhaleFest: Incredible Oceans, he has recently started a PhD at Bath University’s Water, Environment Infrastructure Resilience Unit.

Plankton are the microscopic plants and animals that inhabit the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes. These amazing and often overlooked organisms not only act as the base for the ocean’s foodwebs but also produce a majority of our atmospheric oxygen. Not only this but plankton also have the ability to regulate our climate and if harnessed, could be the panacea to climate change that we’ve been waiting for.​

This talk will introduce you to the wonderous world of plankton by showcasing all of their weird and wonderful shapes and abilities. Russell will then link it to his research interests as he aims to figure out how their shape dictates how they behave in different aquatic environments.

12th December 2016: Why aren’t we more resilient to climate change and what can we do about it? An economist’s perspective

Dr Peter Gist

Ten years ago Lord Nicholas Stern produced a report which took a new angle on climate change, by arguing that it was the greatest market-failure ever seen, and presented a challenge for economists as well as scientists and engineers. So how can economists help to adapt to the new realities of a warming planet?

December’s Science Café will explore how we make decisions to invest in making ourselves more resilient to the effects of climate change and extreme weather events. Why are we surprised repeatedly by events and never seem to have spent enough? Given that things seems to be getting worse, how can we improve decision making?

Dr Peter Gist is a Director in the engineering firm Arup Management Consultancy and the Arup Fellow in Economics. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at the University of Bristol.

Link: Peter Gist