Graduate Conference 2014


Andrew Singleton - What is the string theory thing anyway?

It is often said that string theory provides our best, and perhaps only, attempt at a “Theory of Everything”: a single coherent physical idea that could describe, at least in principle, everything that ever happens in the universe. But what exactly is a “Theory of Everything”? What is the problem it’s meant to solve? How does string theory do so? Perhaps most perplexingly, why should anyone believe a theory for which we haven’t a single shred of experimental evidence, and which doesn’t even look like producing a testable prediction in the foreseeable future? These are seriously hard questions to which there are currently no really conclusive answers. I’ll try to illustrate what we do know, as well as explaining why we don’t know more.

Imme Lammertink - Who’s next? Turn-taking in Dutch and English toddlers

Toddlers learn language in context of conversations. Successful coordination and comprehension of conversations relies heavily on the ability to anticipate upcoming speaker changes (turn-transitions). In daily life conversations we use different social and linguistic cues to anticipate these speaker chances, for example eye movements, gestures, sentence structure and intonation.

Here, we investigate which linguistic cues Dutch and English toddlers use to anticipate a turn-transition. In particular, we focus on two linguistic cues: sentence structure and intonation contour. We manipulate both cues. With respect to sentence structure we assume that a complete sentence indicates a turn-transition whereas an incomplete sentence indicates a turn-hold (you expect the speaker to finish the sentence first). With respect to intonation contour we assume that question intonation (rise in your voice) indicates a turn-transition, hence you expect a response from the other speaker, whereas an incomplete intonation contour signals a turn-hold.

We investigate our research question via an eye-tracking experiment in which eye-movements of participants are followed while they watch videos of two puppets in conversation. In each conversation, sentences are manipulated for syntactic structure (complete or incomplete) and intonation (question or not) as mentioned above. These manipulations result in four different conditions, as I will discuss in the presentation.

Our first results show that Dutch adults rely more on syntactic structure compared to intonation contour while they anticipate turn-transitions. In contrast, we expect both Dutch and English toddlers to rely more on intonational contour since children receive rich intonational input and are very sensitive to intonation from an early age. In the presentation I will further outline how we investigate our hypothesis and discuss the first results on Dutch adult data

Lubin Chen - HCN ion channels: critical modulator of pain

The pain pathway is an incredible complicated system and the mechanism of pain is still not fully understood. Many molecular factors contribute to the pain sensation; but there is evidence showing that the hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide- modulated (HCN) ion channels play a critical role in both inflammatory and neuropathic pain. This channel functions as a ‘switch’ turning up or down the firing frequency of nociceptors (neurons that sense pain), which directly correlates to the intensity of pain.

A subpopulation of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, which expresses a sodium ion channel Nav1.8, are believed to be nociceptors. The deletion of HCN2 gene in this particular subpopulation of DRG neurons is sufficient to attenuate both inflammatory and neuropathic pain in response to thermal or mechanical stimuli. This channel is therefore a potential target for developing novel analgesics that have completely distinct working mechanism comparing to the available analgesics such as opioids or anti-inflammatory drugs and hopefully can meet the currently unfulfilled needs in pain management.


Ben Mee - Contribution, musical chairs, and the May Ball market

In some cases, the law allows victims of wrongdoing to recover all of their losses from one, rather than all, of those responsible for the damage caused. The unlucky wrongdoer may therefore be required to foot a bill that far exceeds their “fair share”, while other wrongdoers retain a handsome profit from their unlawful conduct. Contribution law allows the unlucky wrongdoer to recover some of that “excess” from his or her fellow wrongdoers in certain circumstances.

This presentation explores topical issues in contribution law, by reference to a hypothetical conspiracy to fix the price of tickets to the 2015 Cambridge May Balls.

Claire Ratican - Ravens flocking to the reddened sword or sheep in the midst of wolves?

The animal motif is a lasting element in the Anglo-Saxon artistic tradition in England from the 5th century Migration Period through to the Christian conversion of the 8th century, and beyond. However, representations of animals have varied stylistically and contextually throughout the Middle Ages. Do these differences point to a fundamental shift in the manner in which people perceived their relationship with animals and the world, or do the similarities of content and style speak to an artistic tradition embodying enduring values and symbols for societies confronting immeasurable political, economic and social change?

Angela Scarsbrook - Musical performance v. musical analysis?

Most performers and musicologists don’t like each other very much. Performers believe that music was only intended to be performed and that musicologists drain the fun out of music. Musicologists believe that there is more hiding behind the musical score that can only be discovered through analysis and that some performers miss the point.

We are going to understand the debate from both sides by examining excerpts from recent recordings to see what analytically-informed performances can sound like and how they might differ from less analytically-informed performances. We will conclude by considering ways forward for musicology and performance to inform each other more successfully, leading to better performances and better musicology.

Afra Pujol Campeny - Iberian peninsula’s linguistic puzzle: from the middle ages to the 21st century

The current geo-political linguistic picture of the Iberian Peninsula is the result of more than a thousand years of language evolution and turbulent history.

The same historical events that shaped its borders in the Early Middle Ages turned it into a linguistic melting-pot of Romance varieties, Arabic and Indigenous languages. This resulted into a linguistic situation that saw the birth and death of some languages, as well as entire linguistic communities arriving and leaving in the blink of an eye, but nevertheless, leaving a trace in the linguistic history of the peninsula.

We will explore this linguistic puzzle diachronically, to understand how the current situation came to be.

Other talks


Richard Pates - Fish, and fundamental limits in network performance

The use of high performance cruise control systems allows cars to be driven much closer together in platoons, potential hugely increasing road capacity on motorways. However as the number of cars in a platoon gets large it begins to exhibit a slinky like behaviour, seriously limiting performance. This phenomena appears to be linked to some fundamental performance limits based on spatial dimension, with similar effects begin observed in flocks of birds and fish. We present some results and thoughts on this topic.

Heba Bevan - Low power wireless sensor network

Subterranean mass-rapid-transport systems use sensors to detect structural changes and communicate data for maintenance modifications. The objective of this research project is to create a new generation of wireless sensor network devices that are small, reliable and very low power consumption. The small size and low power consumption will allow the devices to be deployed in difficult to reach places and areas with limited ambient energy sources, such as bridges and tunnels, respectively.

The devices are power managed by a central processor unit (CPU) programmed to perform tasks that include managing structural sensors, interpreting data, communicating data via a wireless sensor network (WSN) and managing energy consumption. This project will be tested in the London Underground and will serve research institutions and the civil engineering industry.

The outcome of this project will be an array of wireless sensor network devices that gather structural change data caused by events such as leaks, cracks, temperature, pressure and impacts. The system will feed the data through the WSN allowing real time changes and targeted structural maintenance efforts. These devices will not need regular maintenance and battery changes, eliminating a great deal of the human intervention hitherto necessary for wireless devices deployed in hard to reach places like tunnels, railways and the bottoms of bridges.

Yu-Tzu Wu - Time period, birth cohort and prevalence of dementia in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

Economic development and the change of social environment affect the living conditions of people with substantial influence on health of different generations. In East Asia, dramatic societal changes in the last hundred years could be associated to several risk factors related to dementia, such as extended life expectancy, education opportunities, nutrition, stress and increase of chronic diseases. This study includes the 70 prevalence studies of dementia in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan from 1980 to 2012 and explores the temporal variation of dementia prevalence across different time periods and birth cohorts taking study methods into account. The results indicate no clear variation of dementia prevalence across time periods but a potential increasing pattern from less to more recent birth cohorts. Societal changes might influence early life experiences across different generations with substantial impact on mental health in later life.

Jian Chen - Integration of optics and electronics for future communication technologies.

Communication technologies have a tremendous impact on our daily lives. However the dramatic increase in the need for information is constantly challenging the limits of electronics. Photonics can overcome these bottlenecks of electronics in speed, bandwidth and power consumption; however its advances in performance have not become commoditized and accessible on a larger scale. Therefore, my topic is about photonic integration technology, making photonic products cost-effective and energy-efficient.


Charlotte Robinson - Modernism and the vernacular city: the work of Fernand Pouillon in Algiers

The city of Algiers underwent a huge social, economic and architectural transition whilst under French colonial rule, and was like many colonial cities, used as testing grounds for new visions of a modern city. Whilst Le Corbusier, the famed pioneer of the modernist movement, proposed the huge radical Plan Obus, which tested the boundaries of modernism, but was notably was never realised, Fernand Pouillon sought to understand the traditional city and form a bridge between vernacular architecture and the rising modern urbanity.

Pouillon was famed for his insightful housing ensembles and ability to create a material continuity between his work and the traditional city. Pouillon’s Diar el Mahçoul, built in 1954, was the first development in Algiers designed for both European and native Algerian occupants. This presentation will explore the way in which Pouillon brought together elements of the traditional Arab Islamic city and modern urbanity, in an attempt to create a new vernacular modern.

Christine van Hoft - Public financial management and public service delivery in Uganda

Uganda has one of the highest rates of population growth in the world, and is also one of the youngest: half the population of Uganda is aged below 15 years. This fast population growth has placed pressure on public services such as schools and healthcare centres, as managers of these facilities face dividing their already thin resources over an ever- growing number of recipients. The provision of public services is also made more complex by the system of public financial management, through which the government converts commitments made in the annual Budget to the delivery of services ‘on the ground’.

In Uganda, as in many developing countries, the governance structure is based on a decentralised model: the central government in the capital city, and a number of district governments with headquarters spread across the country. It is these district governments that are responsible for providing public services including schools, healthcare clinics, roads, water and sanitation. This means that if the process for transferring funding from the central government to the district governments is flawed, the delivery of public services will be negatively affected. My research addresses the extent to which the public financial management system in Uganda supports the delivery of good-quality public services.

Amy Fand-Yen Hsieh - How do we process complex sentences?

Various theories have been proposed to explain how people process complex sentences such as relative clauses (RC, e.g. the girl [who I like]). In the literature, it has been consistently reported that processing subject-extracted RC (e.g. the girl [who _ likes me]) is easier than processing object-extracted RC (e.g. the girl [who I like_]) in languages such as English, German and Dutch. However, in Chinese, the modified noun appears at the end of RC (RC + noun, vs. noun + RC in English) and the theories make different predictions in RC processing difficulty in Chinese. In this talk, I will provide empirical evidence to address this issue and make a simple comparison between processing RC in English and in Chinese.


Rory Cellan-jones - BBC technology correspondent

Rory Cellan-Jones has been a reporter for the BBC for a quarter of a century, covering business and technology stories for much of that time. He joined the BBC as a researcher on Look North in 1981, moving to London to work as a producer in the TV Newsroom and on Newsnight.

His on-screen career began as reporter for Wales Today in Cardiff, from where he moved to London as a reporter on Breakfast Time. He quickly transferred to business coverage, working across the BBC’s output from the Money Programme to Newsnight, from the Today programme to the Ten O Clock News. The stories he has covered range from Black Wednesday and the Maxwell trial to the dot com bubble and the rise of Google.

In 2000 he was briefly the BBC’s Internet Correspondent before returning to his post as Business and Industry Correspondent after the dot com bubble burst. At the beginning of 2007 he was appointed Technology Correspondent with a brief to expand the BBC’s coverage of the impact of the internet on business and society.

He now covers technology for television, radio and the BBC website. He also blogs regularly on “dot rory”, the BBC’s popular technology blog, named as one of the Sunday Times Top 100 blogs, and is a prolific tweeter - you can follow him at @ruskin147 or @BBCRoryCJ . In 2012 readers of T3 magazine voted him Gadget Personality of The Year. And whenever there is a new gadget or useful website to try, Rory is likely to be experimenting with ways of using the new tools in his journalism.

In 2014, he began presenting a new weekly programme Tech Tent on the World Service. He is also the author of “Dot Bomb”, a critically acclaimed account of Britain’s dot com bubble. Rory studied Modern and Medieval Languages at Jesus College, Cambridge, and worked in Paris and Berlin before entering journalism. He is married with two sons, and lives in Ealing in West London.