Science Cafés

2022 Science Café Schedule

The Science Café dates for this year are:

  • Thursday 24th March
  • Thursday 16th June
  • Thursday September 15th
  • One evening in Festival Week, 14th – 19th November

Here’s the details for our summer café

Thursday 16th June, 7.30pm

On this warm summer evening (we live in hope!) we will be following our usual format with three great speakers on diverse topics and time for Q&A after every presentation. The topics for the 16th will be:

  • Endless possibilities
    • Dr Katie Chicot, School of Mathematics & Statistics, The Open University and CEO MathsWorldUK
    • Katie looks at different sizes of infinity and how we can measure them from the infinitely small to the uncountable.
  • Tinnibot: Evidence base for a smartphone tinnitus companion app
  • Smashing ions for efficient computing
    • Dr Philippa Shepley,School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds
    • As we use more and more power to run all of the cloud storage and computing we do every day, we need new solutions to make computers more energy efficient. I will explain how we use nanoscale engineering of materials for energy efficient computing. With a demo I’ll show how we modify the properties of materials by implanting a few atoms of one metal into another. The idea is that having this atomic precision allows us to fine-tune how the materials behave in devices like computer memory.

Further information and tickets:

The Science Café will start at 7.30pm on Thursday March 24th.

As usual, tickets for the Café are £6, but free for under 18s (though a ticket is still required)

Tickets are available from the Courthouse or you can click/tap here

Otley Courthouse Arts Centre
Courthouse Street
West Yorks
LS21 3AN

01943 467466

You can email Otley Science Festival here:
or follow us on Twitter @otleyscience

Earlier 2022 Science Cafés

Thursday 24th March, 7.30pm

  • Solar Windy with a Chance of Geomagnetic Storms: a long-term forecast for UK space weather
    • Dr Jon Mound, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
    • In addition to light, the Sun constantly gives off a stream of charged particles called the solar wind.  The strength and speed of the solar wind varies through time and is particularly strong after coronal mass ejections – massive eruptions on the surface of the sun that throw solar wind particles out into space at hundreds of kilometres per hour. When the solar wind reaches Earth, in interacts with the planetary magnetic field and cause a variety of effects referred to as space weather. Space weather events can disrupt satellite functions, damage transformers on high power electrical transmission lines, and light up the night skies with spectacular aurora. In this talk, I will cover some of the work that our team at Leeds has been involved with, trying to evaluate how much of a risk Space Weather poses to the UK, both at present and over the next 50-100 years.
  • The Technology of Architecture
    • Dr Matthew Brooke-Peat, School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing, Leeds Beckett University
    • Architectural Technology is rooted in science and engineering knowledge applied to the design of sustainable and inclusive buildings.  This creative discipline forms the link between concept and realisation by designing for production (how buildings are constructed) and performance in use (how buildings work).  Architectural Technology focuses on the development of responsible high performance practical solutions that respond to architectural need through the implementation of digital and physical technologies.  This talk will provide an illustrated overview of the Architectural Technology discipline and the work of the Chartered Architectural Technologist.
  • Smart materials to keep antibiotics working; stopping the post-antibiotic era
    • Professor Stephen Rimmer, School of Chemistry, University of Bradford
    • We don’t have an overview but you can find information about Professor Rimmer’s research group at 

2021 Science Café Schedule

Our Covid affected Science Cafés in 2021 were:

  • March 18th: because of the uncertainties we decided this would be on-line only
  • June 17th: this took place as a socially distanced event in Otley Courthouse, but was also on Zoom
  • September 16th: this was back to our standard format
  • Plus the Festival week Science Café on Tuesday November 16th

We have left information on these and some earlier cafés below.

Tuesday 16th November, 7.30pm – Science Festival Week Café

  • Dung and Dusted: Was sheep’s dung used to fire pots in prehistoric Europe?
    • Dr Mike Copper and Dr Gregg Griffin, School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, University of Bradford
    • Despite their enormous importance to archaeologists, surprisingly little is known about how pots were fired in prehistoric Europe before the introduction of kiln technology. While ethnographic studies can present us with various possibilities and help us to generate testable hypotheses, experimental archaeology also provides an important method for investigating past technological practices. This talk will present the results of the experimental project Dung and Dusted, recently undertaken at the University of Bradford, that aimed to evaluate the possibility that sheep dung was used to fire pots during the Neolithic and Bronze Age and to identify ways in which the use of dung can be distinguished from other fuels in archaeological contexts. A hot topic you will surely want to get to the bottom of!
  • Fantastic fibre optics! Next-generation seismic monitoring in a Greenlandic Glacier
    • Dr Adam Booth, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
    • Understanding the flow dynamics of ice is essential for predicting their evolution in a warming climate. Geophysicists have used seismic surveys for many years, to monitor the internal structure and basal conditions of glaciers, but interpreting the required detail from the seismic data remains challenging. Novel fibre-optic technologies offer enormous potential for overcoming this hurdle – and my final pre-covid field campaign was a demonstration of the fibre-optic future of seismic surveying on Greenland’s Store Glacier.
  • Putting the A in STEM
    • Dr Briony Thomas, School of Mechanical Engineering / School of Design, University of Leeds and Chair of Leeds Cultural Education Partnership
    • Science communication has never been more essential. Despite this, a study by the British Science Association (2020) revealed that almost 9 in 10 young people felt that scientists and politicians were leaving them out of the COVID-19 conversation. In this talk, I will share an approach to ensure that the voices and concerns of young people living in Batley were heard. The project used visual arts and design – a STEAM approach – to explore the science behind the coronavirus pandemic and engaged young people in creative activities that were shared with their community.
    • You can find out more about the Leeds Cultural Education Partnership here

Thursday 16th September, 7.30pm – the “back to normal” Science Café

After our socially distanced in-the-room (and on Zoom) June Science Café in September we returned to our normal format, sitting around tables in Otley Courthouse.

Our three talks on this evening covered:

  • Covid-19 vaccines – access, equality and success
    • Dr Liz Breen, Director of the Digital Health Enterprise Zone, University of Bradford
    • The advent of the Coronavirus pandemic in late 2019 created pandemonium throughout the world, challenging every aspect of our society. Overnight we became experts in vaccine production and logistics and engaged more with our NHS as a matter of urgency. Access to vaccines locally and globally became the ultimate priority, one that seemed to be very difficult to achieve in a transparent and sustainable manner. We invested huge levels of hope in our vaccines working as our way out of the pandemic and to reduce the pressure on our NHS. The Digital Health Enterprise Zone at the University of Bradford hosted the Novavax vaccine trial and currently supports the Covid-19 vaccine booster trial. My personal interest in this vaccine supply chain has led to the delivery of multiple articles with global coverage and associated media engagement. I invite you to join a discussion on vaccine access/equality and the success of our Covid-19 vaccination programme.
  • Pachyderms, parrots and Polynesian tree snails
    • Dr Mark Stidworthy, Principal Veterinary Pathologist, International Zoo Veterinary Group
    • We know autopsies help solve human murder mysteries and surgical biopsies guide our medical treatment, but what can veterinary pathologists teach us about zoo animals and wildlife? Illustrated with examples from my work I will show how comparative pathology (from invertebrates to elephants) can control disease outbreaks and support conservation programmes, even keeping human populations healthy.
  • Why BUY? The science behind consumer behaviour
    • Dr Alessandro Biraglia, Leeds University Business School
    • No matter how much or how little, how consciously or not, we all consume goods in our daily lives. But why do we buy what we buy? Using examples from recent research (bothmy own and others), in this talk I will embark on a short journey looking at what individual factors and environmental drives lead to consumption development and evolution.

Thursday 17th June, 7.30pm – the “back in the room” Science Café

We remained optimistic and it happened. We welcomed people back into Otley Courthouse for this Science Café for the first time since March last 2020. We also provided the facility to join on-line, our first “blended” event. We had the speakers and socially distanced audience in the Courthouse and shared the presentations on Zoom, not without some challenges! But we got there (mostly).

Our topics on the evening were:

  • Weaving with DNA
    • Dr Andrew J. Lee, Centre Manager, Bragg Centre for Materials Research, University of Leeds
    • We have all heard of DNA, but how much do you really know about it? No doubt you have learnt that DNA holds the instructions for life, used to make everything from a lemon to a lion. But can you use it to make shapes, robots or even archive every meme on the internet? In this talk I will re-introduce you to DNA, the material, and explore how we can repurpose its chemical properties to create tiny self-assembling machines. Forget Biology, this is DNA nanotechnology!
  • Drawing to Remember – beyond Encoding?
    • Janet Love, Committee Member, Otley Science Festival
    • Drawing is a powerful tool and is particularly associated with Art Therapy. Beyond this, the power of drawing is increasingly being investigated in other fields of psychology including stroke recovery, eye-witness testimony and especially education. However, there is a gap investigating drawings potential to actively and accurately retrieve object names whilst drawing alone….Janet Love presents tentative results of such an investigation conducted during her MSc in Cognitive Development and Disorders at the University of Leeds, 2019-2020.
  • Wastewater in the Wharfe
    • Professor Rick Battarbee FRS, Environmental Change Research Centre, University College London
    • Following concerns about the frequency of untreated sewage spills into the River Wharfe from the Ashlands Sewage Treatment Works in Ilkley the Ilkley Clean River Group was formed. Its campaign to clean up the river has helped to raise awareness about the health hazards faced by wild swimmers and other recreational users of rivers throughout the country. This talk explains how citizen science was used, and is being used, to underpin the campaign on the Wharfe.

Thursday 18th March – our first Science Café of 2021

It seems we called this one correctly as we made the decision a while back that this would be an on-line only event.

However it’s going to be an excellent evening with, as ever, a great line up of three speakers. Don’t miss your chance to hear from and then fire questions at top scientists from around the region* as they set out to encapsulate a key idea in just 10-15 min.

(* you may spot our wide definition of “region”: we are delighted to have one speaker who would normally be well beyond the borders of Yorkshire, but in these strange times…)

  • What has the LHC ever done for us?
    • Dr. Duncan Leggat, Institute of High Energy Physics, Beijing
    • The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN facility in Geneva, Switzerland has been smashing atoms together for more than a decade now, and has made countless measurements including the discovery of the Higgs Boson, for which Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2013. But what does this mean for our everyday lives? Far beyond the scope of carrying out research ‘just for research’s sake’, the technology and methodology developed at CERN and for the LHC have had a marked impact in wider society. This talk will explore just exactly what ‘the LHC ever did for us’.
  • You are never alone – the hidden living world inside you
    • Prof. Philip Quirke, Professor of Pathology, School of Medicine, University of Leeds
    • Phil will change the way you look at yourself. He will describe the intimate and important relationship you have with the life forms that live with/in you and how we are starting to understand the complex interactions that exist and how they contribute to health and disease with a particular emphasis on bowel cancer.
  • Science with a telescope ten miles across
    • Dr. Katherine Johnston, Research Fellow, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds
    • How do astronomers use telescopes many miles across to observe at wavelengths much longer than our eyes can see? And what do they uncover? I will introduce a “telescope” just like this: the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), and give you a glimpse of what I have discovered using this cutting-edge observatory.

2020 Festival Week Science Café – Tuesday 10th November

Following announcement of the new lockdown the 2020 Science Festival Week Science Café went ahead as an on-line only event.

  • A brief history of biopharmaceutical – scientific drivers for adoption of large molecule therapeutics
    • Siân Estdale BSc, MPhil, PhD, Head of Scientific Affairs, CTTS, Covance Laboratories Limited
    • This presentation will look briefly at the historical context for large molecules, the current market of approved large molecules, modalities and therapeutic targets. It will explore the mechanism of action of some block buster molecules and compare with small molecules. The major differences will be highlighted and finally the drug development pathway and probability of success.
  • Ecological risk assessment for biopesticides
    • Dr Mark Whittaker, Managing Director, Applied Insect Science Ltd
    • Biopesticides are low-risk crop protection products based predominantly on naturally-occurring bacteria, viruses and fungi. They are approved for use in Europe under the same regulatory framework as conventional pesticides, for which the assessment of environmental safety is one of the most significant aspects of the evaluation. This presentation will outline the use and benefits of microbial biopesticides in commercial horticulture, and the role of safety testing on pollinators and other non-target organisms.
  • Bragg Centre Creative Labs: Innovation through collaboration
    • Professor Lorna Dougan, Professor of Physics, Director of Research & Innovation, EPSRC Fellow
    • In 2019 and 2020 ten teams of artists and creative professionals were paired with Bragg Centre for Materials Research members to explore collaborations and create ideas together. With no expectation of an output, the process allowed partners to establish the focus of their engagement with each other from the outset. In this talk I will share our motivation for undertaking this endeavour, what we learned along the way and next steps.

September 2020’s Science Café went virtual

We didn’t manage to go ahead with a Science Café in June but for September we decided to go ahead and have an on-line only event. We had two great speakers and this was what was covered on the night:

  • Education for the 4th Industrial Revolution (e4i4)
    • Professor John Baruch, Visiting Professor Leeds Beckett University, Tsinghua University
    • The 4th Industrial Revolution will replace about 50% of UK jobs with robots using AI control systems either for talking to people and answering questions or for driving vehicles and everything in between.  Close human support tasks are impossible to robotise such as nursing or teaching but many others will go. The cost of goods will continue to fall but the key challenge is developing the new economy with its new jobs and new types of work based on technological innovation and creativity. The talk will focus on how the under 28 year olds can rebuild their lives, and opportunities exploiting the unique situation they now find themselves in with the Tsunami of Covid 19.
  • Baby Talk – How connection in infancy supports connection throughout life
    • Dr Vivien Sabel, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University
    • Psychotherapist, Author, Lecturer, Filmmaker and Artist, Dr Sabel is attending the Science Café to share her learning regarding how understanding the language of infants has supported the development of a non-verbal communication model for use in clinical and everyday settings. Her ‘back story’ and educational journey are key to understanding the development of the model and have proved fascinating to audiences in both nationally and internationally.

2020’s first Science Café was on Thursday 12th March

Before everything closed down our topics for that evening were:

2019 Festival week Science Café was on Wednesday 13th

On this enjoyable evening we covered:

  • A civic plan for a climate emergency
    • Professor Paul Chatterton, School of Geography, University of Leeds
    • The climate emergency is a huge threat, but also a huge opportunity. Many people feel powerless in the face of huge global changes out of our control. At my talk I will be discussing how we can organise and take meaningful action to create liveable affordable, green and climate safe neighbourhoods. I’ll be talking about car free cities, biophilia, blue green infrastructure, community led housing, civic energy, and how we can build common wealth. This is a huge opportunity to change our places for the better. We have to think big, start small and act now.
    • Paul is the author of “Unlocking Sustainable Cities”
  • My memory and me – the importance of remembering our own life
    • Dr Jelena Havelka, School of Psychology, University of Leeds
    • Jelena investigates the impact of life changes and transitions on our sense of self and how major public events play a role in organising autobiographical memory.
  • The Analogue Moon
    • Mr Mark Wrigley, Chair of the Yorkshire Branch of the Institute of Physics
    • Mark’s interest in science and technology stemmed from watching the first moon landing live on television as a schoolboy. He filmed the screen with a Super 8 camera, in the days before domestic TV recording technology existed, and his footage of the 1969 event forms part of a display at the Science and Media Museum.
    • A session in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and in anticipation of tomorrow night’s film, Apollo 11

The September 2019 café was on Thursday 26th

The topics for this café were:

  • Molecular music: the sound of chemistry
  • Sugar, fat, alcohol… what’s worse for the liver?
    • Dr J. Bernadette Moore, School of Food Science & Nutrition, University of Leeds
    • She will be presenting her recent research on sugar versus fat in non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease pathogenesis
  • Caricatures and Dancing Homers: The maths of shape
    • Dr Kevin Houston, School of Mathematics, University of Leeds
    • Discussing using mathematics to animate shapes to move in time with music. You may have seen Kevin at the Bradford Science Festival on a stall representing MathsWorldUK (dedicated to establishing the first maths museum in the country)

The June 2019 Science Café was held on Thursday 13th

That night the discussions covered:

  • What can dirty teeth tell us about the past
    • Dr Anita Radini, Department of Archaeology, University of York
  • Drowning: how science can help us avoid it.
    • Dr Martin Barwood, School of Social and Health Sciences, Leeds Trinity University
  • Blockchain – What’s all the fuss about?
    • Andy Thomas, CTO, Aprexo Ltd and Codel Ltd

The first Science Café of 2019 was on March 14th

On that evening the sessions covered:

  • Phage Display: why the Nobel prize went viral
    • Dr Christina Rauber, Senior Scientist, Avacta Life Sciences
  • Jumpers for goalposts or is there more to football science?”
    • Prof. Mark Russell, School of Social and Health Sciences, Leeds Trinity University
  • Decontaminating my grandfather’s chemical legacy
    • Prof. Mark Lorch, School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Hull
    • This was a surprising, interesting and entertaining tale of a (literally) dangerous family legacy. If you’d like to read it or share it with friends, you can find it on line here

Earlier Science Cafés

For the record we have also left available information about our Science Cafés from 2017 and 2018. This can be found here.

September ’17 Café follow up: local air pollution

Professor Pilling C.B.E. (Emeritus Professor, School of Chemistry, Univ. of Leeds) provided the following links related to local air quality issues for us to share here.

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