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Helen Hailes: Using enzymes or sustainable starting materials to synthesise biologically active compounds

The chemical industry faces many current challenges in the preparation of compounds for use as bulk chemicals and in the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and speciality chemical industries. At present there is a high reliance on the use of fossil fuels to provide starting materials, although there is now a move towards the use of renewable resources to provide the chemical building blocks, and reagents to transform these building blocks into desired products. Waste biomass is an attractive material to use for the synthesis of chemicals, biomaterials and biofuels. In addition, in a growing bio-based economy biological catalysts (biocatalysts) such as those obtained from microorganisms and plants provide advantages over many chemical catalysts. Notably, they have been recognised as environmentally friendly, sustainable, and can be used under mild reaction conditions as well as exhibiting exquisite reaction selectivities. (more…)

Rodney Harrison: Heritage Futures

What do nuclear waste disposal, built heritage conservation, endangered language preservation, museum collecting, and the curation of family heirlooms have in common?

Heritage Futures is a 4-year research programme (2015-2019) funded by a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Large Grant based in the UCL Institute of Archaeology, and supported additionally by its four host universities and 21 partner organisations. The project is carrying out ambitious interdisciplinary research to explore the potential for innovation and creative exchange across a broad range of heritage and related fields, in partnership with a number of academic and non-academic institutions and interest groups.


Jane Gilbert: Metamorphosis

My research into medieval literatures has for long moved into, out of, and around questions of metamorphosis, or the self’s radical transformation. Metamorphosis comes to the Middle Ages through three paths. It is the subject of one of the most famous poems by the Latin poet Ovid (43BCE-17/18CE), whose work medieval writers were obsessed with imitating, rivalling, and transforming. Rewriting metamorphosis in this mode was a prestige-winning act in a culture which wanted to be the equal of Greece and Rome. Metamorphosis also occurs in folk and fairy tales, in voices from cultural and social strata ‘below’ that of educated writers and courtly audiences. In this mode, it expresses the exoticism of land and people, the ‘other within’. Finally, Christianity: a religion whose central figure was a god transformed into a man encouraged dreams of radical transformation, of fallen angels and sinners become saints.


Simon Lewis: The Anthropocene

We live in epoch making times. I mean this literally, rather than as a tool to dramatise our seemingly perpetual global economic crisis or latest political scandal. Long spans of time are described by geologists as eons, eras, periods, and epochs. An epoch therefore describes a unit of geological time. The end of the last glaciation, some 11,000 years ago, saw the transition from the cool Pleistocene to the warmer Holocene. This relatively stable epoch saw humans turn to agriculture and our population rise considerably. Now geologists, ecologists and climate scientists, myself included, are stating that we have entered a new and much less stable geological epoch: the Anthropocene.


Carandini and Saleem Laboratories: Brain Mapping

As we move around, we have a sense of where we are and we are able to plan where we need to go. The brain provides us with this sense thanks to a map of the local space. This map was discovered in the 1970s here at UCL by John O’Keefe, who received a Nobel Prize for it last year. The brain keeps this map in a region called the Hippocampus. The map is made of neurons, each of which fire when navigation traverses a certain location in space. The brain maintains and updates this map using multiple cues. One of these cues is by counting steps from a known location. Another cue is given by the landmarks that our eyes see. But how does the brain go from images of landmarks on the eyes to a sense of location in the world?