Tag Archives: science in the pub

PubSci Update

It’s been a while since my latest communication, so it’s time for an update.

We’re working on restarting PubSci soon and have got some fantastic speakers lined up for the next season of talks, including some you may know from TV and radio, but we don’t yet have a venue. I was hoping to get live events running this autumn – but we had a setback that probably delays it to early next year.

I had found a pub that ticked all the boxes: A separate function room available free of charge, wide and not-too-steep stairs for better access, good beers, great food, located near tube and mainline stations, in-house AV (so I don’t need to set-up a projector and screen every time), WiFi so we could livestream… and management who loved the idea of hosting a SciComm event. So what went wrong?

We planned a test event in September and a full restart in October, but UK energy price rises started affecting their costs, and we had the conversation I was dreading: “I’m sorry, but we can no longer host events without charging for the room.”

While this was deeply disappointing, it’s also a great excuse for a pub crawl of potential venues, so every cloud has a silver lining… Watch this space! And if you know of the ideal venue feel free to email us here at PubSci Towers.

I’ll be back when I have any substantial news, but in the meantime, please continue to follow and engage with PubSci on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget that you can always watch some of our past events on the PubSci YouTube Channel.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay curious, and – to quote our friends at science fact-checking website Metafact.io “May the facts be with you!”


Hope to see you in the pub

Robson & Viscardi – Dead or alive?

On Wednesday 2nd November we will have a talk by the founders of PubSci, James Robson and Paolo Viscardi. Both work with animals, but James curates live collections, while Paolo curates dead ones: so which collections are the most interesting – dead or alive?

James Robson is the new Curator of the Sea Life London Aquarium, bringing experience of working with a huge range of live animals from all over the world to London. While he’s busy ensuring the health and welfare of his aquatic charges, he’s also undertaking a PhD on jellyfish. He will be explaining why he thinks live collections are so awesome.

Sarlac Jellyfish by James Robson

Sarlac Jellyfish by James Robson

Paolo Viscardi is currently the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology, but is about to depart for the Emerald Isle to become the Curator of Zoology at Dublin’s Dead Zoo. He’ll be arguing why he thinks dead collections are even more awesome than the living ones.

Dublin's Dead Zoo by Paolo Viscardi

Dublin’s Dead Zoo by Paolo Viscardi

This will be the last London PubSci hosted by the original organisers, but a team of enthusiastic regulars are planning to keep things running in 2017 and an end-of-year quiz is ready for December, so fear not!

Join us upstairs at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. Doors open at 6pm for a 7pm start and as usual the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!

Dr Ruth Siddall – Pigments of our imagination

On Wednesday 5th October we’re delighted to have Dr Ruth Siddall of UCL talking about the colourful topic of pigments.

Ruth is a co-author of The Pigment Compendium and works on the characterisation, synthesis and history of use of pigments, particularly in Roman period painting.

Photomicrograph of the pigment Indian Yellow in cross-polarised light

Photomicrograph of the pigment Indian Yellow in cross-polarised light

Pigments are the materials which give colour to paints. We’ve all heard about yellow ochre and ultramarine, but there are many weird and, to be honest, totally unacceptable materials used out there for pigments. Artists and painters have been incredibly resourceful in finding and creating new colours over the last 40,000 years of experimentation, and new pigments such as Vanta Black and YinMin Blue are still being introduced today. Pigments can be derived from minerals and also dyes extracted from plants and animals, but a number of more unexpected sources of pigments have been used. If it’s coloured, someone has painted with it.

This talk will explore the analytical techniques used to identify pigments in paintings and the stories behind paints such as Indian Yellow, Emerald Green, Turacine and Mummy Brown.

Join us upstairs at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. Doors open at 6pm for a 7pm start and as usual the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!

Dr Steven Le Comber – Maths, murder and malaria

On Wednesday 7th September we’re delighted to welcome Dr Steven Le Comber from Queen Mary, University of London. Steve’s research covers a wide range of subjects within evolutionary biology, including mathematical and computer models of molecular evolution.

Much of this work focuses on the mathematics of spatial patterns, and in his talk he will explain how he has pioneered the introduction of geographic profiling – a statistical technique originally developed in criminology to prioritise the investigation of serial murders – to biology, for example, trying to find the breeding sites for mosquitoes that spread malaria.


In a talk spanning mathematics, Jack the Ripper, great white sharks and the Gestapo, Steve will explain how he used geographic profiling to investigate the identity of the artist Banksy and how he reanalysed a Gestapo case from the 1940s that formed the basis of a famous novel.

Join us upstairs at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. Doors open at 6pm for a 7pm start and as usual the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!

Dr Helen Mayfield – can artificial intelligence save the rainforest?

On Wednesday 3rd August we’re pleased to welcome Dr Helen Mayfield, who has a PhD in mapping science and comes from an IT background, with an active interest in conservation and environmental issues. Her broad research interests are in how computer science and technological advances can help us solve or better understand environmental problems.

Helen Mayfield

We are entering the Anthropocene, a new geological age characterised by mass extinctions and unprecedented pressures on our natural resources.  At the same time technology is progressing at full speed, providing us with a whole new set of tools to help us navigate this brave new world. Yet many environmental management practitioners still rely on the tried and trusted methods that they’re comfortable with.

Helen’s work looks at how we can use machine learning to help us solve environmental management problems. We aim to shed some light on artificial intelligence and demystify a few of the common machine learning techniques, discussing  how they might serve us better than the standard statistical models that are so commonly used (no formulas, promise!). To keep the balance we will also look at some of the pitfalls of techniques such as artificial neural networks to help us consider when NOT to use them.  Being both one of the biggest environmental threats we face, as well as a terribly complicated issue, deforestation analysis provides the perfect case study for doing this.  By taking advantage of the plethora of free datasets that are becoming increasingly available (just look at Google Earth!) we can test out some of these methods to see whether computers can indeed help save the rainforest.

Join us upstairs at theOld King’s Head, near London Bridge station. Doors open at 6pm for a 7pm start and as usual the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!


Dave Hone – Tyrannosaurs: Fact vs Fiction

On Wednesday 6th July we’re pleased to welcome back palaeontologist, lecturer and writer Dr David Hone, who will be sifting the facts from the fiction about everyone’s favourite dinosaur – Tyrannosaurus.


Dave with Tyrannosaurus in Tokyo

Dave is a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, writer for the Guardian and author of the recently published Tyrannosaur ChroniclesHe’s worked on dinosaurs and pterosaurs all over the world and is a great proponent of scientists engaging the public with their work – especially when it comes to how we know what we we know and how that changes with new evidence.

So unleash that 7 year old inside and revel in the terrified joy that only a gigantic, prehistoric, meat-eating monster can bring and join us upstairs at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. Doors open at 6pm for a 7pm start and as usual the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!

Katrina van Grouw – A Very Fine Swan Indeed: Art, Science & The Unfeathered Bird

On Wednesday 1st June we’re very pleased to have Katrina van Grouw speaking at PubSci.

KvG-Katrina van Grouw low res

Katrina inhabits that no-man’s land, slap bang between art and science. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, her formal education was in Printmaking and Natural History Illustration, but she’s also a dedicated ornithologist, a former Natural History Museum curator, a qualified bird ringer, and an experienced preparator of natural history specimens.

KvG-book cover

The book, The Unfeathered Bird, is a magnum opus twenty five years in the
making, and was originally intended as a manual for bird artists. It was only much later that it blossomed into something far more ambitious. A world away from textbooks and diagrams, this is a work equally intended for scientists and artists, indeed anyone with an appreciation of birds or an interest in their adaptations and behaviour. It includes no fewer than 385 illustrations of 200 species, all made from actual specimens, many of which are shown in lifelike positions. Virtually all the complete skeletons were prepared and reconstructed at home from specimens donated from zoos, wildlife hospitals and conservation charities.

KvG-budgie skeletonKvG-great hornbill skeleton small

Join Katrina as she explains her aims and inspirations, shares her insights about birds beneath their feathers, and relates how her home was turned upside down as more and more specimens joined the queue.

Doors open at 6pm for a 7pm start upstairs at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. As usual, the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!

Dr Henry Nicholls – From Narcolepsy to Insomnia

At PubSci on Wednesday 4th May (aka Star Wars Day) we’re delighted to welcome journalist, author and full-time narcoleptic Henry Nicholls, who will reveal what it’s like to live with narcolepsy, a rare and much misunderstood neurological disorder.

Most people who’ve heard of it know it’s a sleep disorder that involves pathological levels of sleep. What few people realise is that its onset is triggered by the flu (or similar infection) and that it often involves a host of other fabulous symptoms, including collapsing fits during moments of high emotion, sleep paralysis, terrifying hallucinations and – paradoxically – insomnia. On account of the amphetamines that Henry takes, he is unlikely to doze off during the talk, but video clips of fainting dogs and excerpts from his forthcoming book will pave the way for a lively discussion of the true value of sleep.


Henry Nicholls

Henry is a science journalist, author, broadcaster and narcoleptic. He is the author of three books: Lonesome George, The Way of the Panda and The Galapagos. His latest literary adventure, provisionally entitled “ZZZ” and due to be published next year, will examine the funny, puzzling, troubling lives of those with pathological patterns of sleep.

Join us from 6pm for a 7pm start at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. As usual, the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!

Gail Austen – Citizen Science: What Makes An Expert?

On Wednesday 2nd March we’re pleased to have Gail Austen speaking about the important and evolving  role of citizen science.

Gail is studying towards a PhD in Biodiversity Management at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent. She has an MSc in Taxonomy and Biodiversity from Imperial College, having been swayed by the course being hosted at the Natural History Museum, where she also volunteered. Prior to this (overlooking a stint in finance), she worked for a Local Records Centre and become involved in local conversation, including spending the last six years as Chair of the Kent Reptile & Amphibian Group (KRAG). Gail has a passion for UK wildlife and is an advocate of amateur naturalists and citizen science.


It is generally accepted that there has been a decline in field biology skills, with some drawing a parallel between the ability to identify flora and fauna with ‘traditional country skills’. There are a number of specialists concerned with the naming and cataloguing of live, dead, extant and extinct specimens, both as part of their job and in a recreational capacity. However, there have been questions raised over the accuracy of the data collected in a ‘non-scientific’ manner, but in order to answer questions about the natural world, the reliance on citizen science and volunteer collected data is increasing.  Using established methods used in face recognition studies in psychology, my research investigates accuracy in visual species identification, what makes an expert, and whether we can improve these skill sets as a legacy for generations to come.

Join us from 6pm for a 7pm start at the Old King’s Head, near London Bridge station. As usual, the event is free, but we will have a whip-round to cover costs – we hope to see you there!


New venue for monthly PubSci

After nearly two years of PubSci in the Upstairs bar at the Ritzy in Brixton, we have decided to move on. The Ritzy was a great place to run the events thanks to the helpful staff, but noise from the downstairs bar was an ongoing issue and we are moving on in search of slightly quieter pastures (we were also keen to find a venue with more ales than lagers).

The new venue for PubSci is the Albert Arms, which is a traditional boozer (with some proper beers) located in Southwark, just a short walk from Elephant & Castle tube.

The Albert Arms. Photo by Ewan-M

Starting with a BANG!

The first event at the Albert will be Claire Benson telling the stories of fire and explosions from the 19th century that captured imaginations, changed the face of the planet and the very way we see the cosmos.

So, if you want to know how spontaneous combustion led to the London Fire Brigade creation, how explosives actually saved many lives, and how the development of 1 small piece of laboratory equipment lead to us understanding the very makeup and expansion of the universe, then join us at 6:30pm on Monday 14th January (yes, the day before the pub quiz – our last event in Brixton).

We hope you like the new venue!