Biomedical Sciences

Our Changing World Lectures 2015

The 2015 Our Changing World Lectures will take place every Tuesday evening from 29th September, in the George Square Lecture Theatre, Edinburgh EH8 9LD.

Admission is free but ticketed: please visit to book tickets, using the links below.

Lecture programme (all 6.30pm)

 29th September

Sharing Autonomy (and responsibility): The robots are ready, are you?

Prof Sethu Vijayakumar

Learning and self-adapting robots have finally arrived. We are seeing real world applications, both positive and negative, emerging in the recent times that are creating disruptive changes in the way we work, commute, play, cure ourselves and compete through real-world adaptive robotic applications. This has thrown up interesting debates about trust, responsibility and accountability. This lecture will look at technological advances in robotics that have made this leap possible, and open a discussion on the trade-off between autonomy and control that we are willing to admit to reap maximal benefits.

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6th October

The data revolution in global healthcare

Prof David Robertson

Over the next decade, data science will change dramatically the practice of healthcare and it’s basis in medicine.  There are two strong drivers from within medicine: the drive to precision, stratified medicine combined with the urgent need for greater effectiveness of healthcare systems.  In synergy with these drivers is the opportunity afforded by the internet, software and sensing technologies to tackle healthcare as a global problem solving activity.  I’ll give a view of what it might mean to combine medical drivers with global data opportunities.

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13th October

The obesity pandemic - Winners and losers in adapting to affluence

Prof Brian Walker

Recent decades have seen a rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity, starting in the most affluent regions but now affecting low-middle income countries. This obesity pandemic has been attributed to increased food intake and decreased energy expenditure, and blamed for a parallel explosion in type 2 diabetes, but has resisted intensive efforts to avert it using drugs or lifestyle modification. And yet, not all obese people develop disease and not everyone in an "obesogenic environment" is equally susceptible to weight gain. In this lecture, Prof Walker will consider how individuals vary in their capacity to adapt to changes in energy balance and the implications for society's response to the obesity pandemic.

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20th  October

Fertility futures in a changing world

Prof Stephen Hillier

Reproduction is a global life force. As total population increases fertility (number of children per woman) falls and expectations change, especially in more developed regions of the world. Medical, educational and societal norms encourage people to control how many children they have and when to have them. Options are opened by assisted reproductive technology based on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). IVF combines eggs and sperm outside the body to create embryos that can be carried to term in a woman’s uterus. Widely used to treat infertility, over 2% of annual childbirths in the UK are now from IVF. Elective IVF is also available for ‘approved’ medical reasons, e.g. screening for embryos with specific gene defects and chromosomal abnormalities. Controversial genome engineering tools are on the horizon, raising the spectre of non-therapeutic ‘gene enhancement’ beyond strictly therapeutic gene repair.  Might they prove useful? Would they be acceptable? Only time will tell.

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27th October

Reshaping our world with new energy systems

Dr Andrew Kerr

All countries face difficult choices when seeking to deliver clean, affordable and secure supplies of energy to their citizens. Recent years have seen extraordinary – disruptive – changes and innovation in many aspects of energy generation and use around the world (in markets, technologies, regulations, social acceptance, and geopolitics). This lecture will showcase these important changes – and how they impact on us in Scotland and elsewhere around the world. And it will pose the question: How can we help countries, regions and cities make better choices about the energy sources and supplies that will deliver their needs?

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3rd November

UN Sustainable Development Goals, Learning for Sustainability and government policies

 Prof Peter Higgins and Prof Charles Hopkins

By October 2015 world leaders will have adopted the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will guide global development until 2030.  In implementing these SDGs, Learning for Sustainability (LfS), highlighted in SDG Goal 4 will play a key role. Learning in sustainable development has been a cornerstone of global efforts to address issues such as dangerous climate change since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Its importance was recognised by the creation of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005 – 2014), and reaffirmed at the Decade’s end with the adoption of the new LfS Global Action Programme by the UN General Assembly.  Scotland has committed significantly to the SDGs and to LfS in formal education, as well as in other sectors. This lecture will reflect on global LfS developments, and consider LfS in the UN SDGs and the Global Action Programme from a Scottish and UK perspective.

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10th November

Ocean Futures - Balancing Blue Growth and Conservation

Dr Meriwether Wilson

Healthy oceans provide essential ecosystem services for humanity: food, clean air, climate regulation - all fundamental to our survival and all life on Earth. When imagining the ocean, the biophysical grandeur of deep blues, underwater canyons and coral reefs, we can intrinsically grasp the concept of 'blue capital'. However as we de-mystify the oceans with increased knowledge, we  enhance our capacity to commodify.  Our resulting marine footprints are intentional (e.g. fishing, energy extraction), or accidental (ocean warming, acidification) but in most cases invisible. Stewardship of the oceans requires a balancing act of blue growth and conservation, around a vision of ocean sustainability that goes beyond terrestrial norms. This talk explores how the concepts of blue capital, blue growth and ecosystem services, which are typically anthropocentric, can be viewed with a broader interpretation in which the diverse marine species resident in our global oceans can be fully taken into account as well. 

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17th November

From Speculative Finance to Sustainable Finance

Prof Emilios Avgouleas

Today's financial markets are a ‘wild’ place only for the very brave, associated with risk, greed, and fear. Strikingly in the past 25 years, financial markets have systematically failed to foster long-term growth. Yet this is a marked break in the long history of finance, occasional devastating crashes notwithstanding. While each recent crisis has informed reforms around the globe, these are piecemeal and have not ventured far enough to re-align financiers' incentives with long-term capital allocations. As a result, despite a marked global savings glut, not enough private money is channelled to sustainable growth and poverty eradication. This is one of the thorniest problems facing humanity today. Arguably these challenges call for global solutions, and may be addressed only through a radical overhaul of the content and structures of global financial governance. This lecture will discuss in a free thinking mode, a number of possible solutions to the seemingly intractable problem of how to turn speculative finance into sustainable investment.

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24th November  Enlightenment Lecture

The promise of 2015:Hopes for a new Environmental Enlightenment

Julia Marton-Lefèvre

In this lecture Julia Marton-Lefèvre will compare the profound changes that took place in the 18th century European Enlightenment, emphasizing reason rather than tradition, with the need for a new enlightenment to face the stark challenges posed by an unprecedented loss of biodiversity, a rapidly changing climate and increasing inequality among nations and individuals.  The year 2015 is full of important opportunities to enter a new era of thinking and action which, if done right, may one day be looked upon as the Enlightenment of the 21st Century. To deserve this recognition, and indeed to ensure a dignified future for the generations who follow us, we will have to undergo transformational change in the way we tackle these challenges.  Several major events in 2015 could drive the steps toward a new age of reason. These include the adoption by all nations at the UN in September of a set of Sustainable Development Goals aiming to “free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet”, and the Climate Conference in Paris, which begins a few days after this Lecture. The transformational changes required to face these challenges call for human creativity, leadership and a serious commitment, to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for the place we call our home.

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