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The presentations tonight cover the sweep of human life on our planet. We firstly look at how the evolution of the human hand, and importantly the differences between us and other primates, has enabled fine manipulation of tools and now technology. We next look at the issues surrounding future human survival, illustrated by the potential for sustainable energy storage, and lastly the development of novel materials to replace plastics and reduce resultant pollution.
Hanging out with great apes and grasping at straws
Our research concerns the hands of living primates and fossil humans. We use a combination of laser and CT-Scanning technology to analyse the shape and internal structure of hand bones in these species to help understand when and how our modern manipulative hands evolved and when we began to produce technology. We also investigate how apes use their hands to swing in the trees or knuckle-walk on the ground to understand when your ancestors fully came down from the trees and preferred to walk on two legs.
Batteries go Metal Free
Believe it or not, the biggest challenge in renewable energy right now is not how to harness the energy of the sun, but to store it so as to harvest when sunlight is abundant and use when it is not. In this talk, we will explore the use of “flow batteries” – rechargeable fuel cells which could balance electrical grid load at night. In particular, we look at how to get away from toxic, expensive vanadium or similar rare metals, and towards earth-abundant materials based on carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen.
Nature Under Pressure
Dr Rob Barker (Lecturer in Chemistry and Forensic Science)
Developing new techniques to understand how biological molecules respond to pressure. This has applications in everything around us, from being inspired by the amazing natural properties of saliva to making new lubricants through to using this understanding to help separate and manipulate parts of our blood for future healthcare technologies.