Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

November’s Café Scientifique on the diagnosis, treatment and research into Alzheimer’s disease was given by Dr Cheryl Hawkes from the Department of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences at the Open University.


Cheryl started by explaining that 35.5 million people in the world and 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form. Several people in the audience indicated that somebody they knew was suffering from dementia.


The disease is diagnosed by identifying its symptoms which include a loss of memory, mood swings and problems with communication and reasoning. These are assessed using standardised memory tests.


Dr. Cheryl Hawkes at Smokin’ Billy’s giving her Cafe Scientifique talk

Alzheimer’s disease is caused when Tau proteins, which strengthen microtubules in our central nervous system, start to change and form tangled clumps inside nerve cell bodies, causing the microtubules to fall apart. The formation and build-up of extracellular Amyloid beta plaque has been implicated as the underlying cause and its removal has been the subject of several clinical trials.


Cheryl ended by giving us some useful advice on how to lower our risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease which included both physical and mental exercise and a healthy diet. She advised that although alcohol was not recommended, if one ‘must’ indulge, red wine may reduce our risks.


Inside Ebola

“I’m here because I love viruses”

Dr Ben Neuman introduces us to viruses at Cafe Scientifique

The May Cafe Scientifique saw Dr Ben Neuman from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading introduce us to the wonderful world of viruses.

Ben started by giving us an update on the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and explained how Ebola is partitioned in tissues and transferred from person to person. He also provided a background to how it became prevalent in humans (apparently through eating uncooked bats! – Ozzy Osbourne beware)

Ben then answered questions from the audience both on Ebola and on viruses in general, explaining that they have been around much longer than us and that they are at the pinnacle of evolution (much more evolved than us).

He finished by offering a solution on how we could eradicate all viral diseases: We just each have to spend a year alone in a phone box in space without contact with each other and everybody on earth needs to do this otherwise it wont work.

You can read more about Dr Neuman’s research here

British Science Week 2015

It’s been nearly two months since Reading Science Week – part of British Science Week – and the branch has recouped from what was a very busy, fun and successful week.

We kicked off Reading Science Week this year with science busking on Broad St. in Reading centre. Despite the chilly weather, we entertained kids, adults, and even ourselves with live science demonstrations: we extracted DNA from strawberries, investigated strange solids with non-newtonian fluids, and got a few lessons on light and laser science.


Our enthusiastic volunteers engaged the crowd and handed out flyers inviting people to the week’s events. These events included Stargazing where families enjoyed talks by scientists and had the chance to observe Jupiter in our night’s sky, SciScreen’s (two!), public lectures at the University of Reading, Science Slam and more.


Cafe Scientifique, our regular science event, saw not one, but five scientists give a talk on genetic engineering. The young scientists were last year’s University of Reading’s iGEM team and gave a talk on their project involving genetically modifying bacteria to produce energy. The students each discussed the benefits of genetic modification in solving problems such as biofuel shortage, which stimulated a fantastic debate on this controversial subject!


All in all, this year’s Reading Science Week was a great success, and without our enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers it wouldn’t have been made possible, so a huge thanks to everyone who was involved!

Dr. Jason Lim talks about tracking insects with radar

Last night Dr. Jason Lim from Rothamsted Research give a fantastic talk with some wonderful demonstrations about his research on the use of radarIMG_0079 technology to track high flying insects and bees. Jason is the Chair of the Radar Entomology Unit at Rothamsted Research which is currently seen as one of the world leading units in the use of remote sensing technology for studying insect movement around the globe.

In his talk Jason introduced the two types of radar his group operates: Vertical-Looking Radar for tracking high flying insects during their annual migrations and Harmonic Radar for tracking bees and other low flying insects over a distance of approximately 1 km. He went on to explain how radar worked using a torch, some paper moths on a stick, and some coloured tubes. In this photo he is projecting a paper moth onto the ceiling to demonstrate how Vertical-Looking Radar works.

Jason described how research using Vertical-Looking Radar has revealed the 9000 mile migration route of the painted lady butterfly. His recent research showed for the first time that bumble bees are able to optimise their foraging routes to ensure that they travel the shortest possible distance between sources of nectar in their territory.