Monthly Archives: November 2013

A view from the United Nations Climate Change Conference

Top University of Exeter climate scientist Mat Collins was at the the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland. He gives us his view of proceedings…

Mat’s view of the conference.

We have just finished our ‘side event’ at the 19th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP19) meeting. The COP conferences are the meetings in with the politics of climate change are discussed and international agreements are made, or not made.

I was speaking at an event highlighting some of the conclusions of the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR5 IPCC), of which I was the lead author of the chapter on climate projections.

The session was focussed on some of the regional aspects of climate change and how they are interpreted and used by governments, businesses and NGOs.

The AR5 report says quite a bit about global warming, the likelihood of crossing global temperature thresholds, near-term changes in temperature, global sea level rise etc. But it is much harder to make projections of regional climate change. This is because regional climate is more affected by natural fluctuations in climate, changes in circulation and local feedbacks that are uncertain.

The IPCC AR5 contains an annex in which presents pictures of regional temperature and rainfall changes as simulated by different climate models.

This Atlas is designed to give some basic information about regional climate change that is backed up with text and assessment from various chapters in the main report. For example, figures of rainfall change in Indian region can be linked to a section that discusses the potential for a strengthening India Monsoon in the future. My talk mainly focussed on this Atlas.

The side event was well attended so it seems that there is still a need to communicate the results of our research into climate change.

A related side event, on current CO2 emissions was held yesterday and included a talk from my Exeter colleague, Prof Pierre Friedlingstein.

In terms of the political negotiations, it is difficult to find out what is going on. But it seems from the media coverage that there is not much progress. There is still plenty of climate science to do, but we know enough about global change to warrant these negotiations.

You can follow Mat on Twitter @Mat_Collins

Carol Smart’s donor conception lecture

On 15 November, Prof Carol Smart, a co-director of the Morgan Centre for the Study of Relationships and Personal Life gave a talk as part of Exeter’s Humanities and Social Sciences open lecture series. Staff, students, and interested others gathered to hear Carol talk about her work on donor conception in contemporary family life, including Research Fellow Dr Joe Sweetman

Carol’s work on the Relative Strangers project (with co-investigator Dr Petra Nordqvist) provided the basis of her talk. Over the last 20 years more than 35,000 children have been born in the UK through donor conception (via the donation of sperm or ova) and increasing access to new reproductive technologies means that families with children conceived through donor conception are set to become more common.

The Relative Strangers project explored what it means to have a child born through donor conception. Carol described some of the findings from interviews conducted with 44 couples (22 lesbian and 22 heterosexual parents) that conceived using a donor and 30 grandparents of donor-conceived children. With an array of data on family experiences, she focused on two themes:

  1. How do families manage to connect?
  2. What makes families struggle to connect?

Carol found that although parents (and less so grandparents) were usually in favour of being open about the genetic origins of donor-conceived children, they found that telling children and others was fraught with difficulties. For example, parents struggled with figuring out just how and when to tell people.

Notions of genetic relatedness played a central role in families’ experiences. For some, donor conception was “better” than adoption because of the genetic-relatedness of “at least” one parent. For others, engagement with (often fuzzy) notions of genetics led them to affirm the importance of parenting as doing – highlighting how nurture (rather than nature) led to the process of building the child into one of the family.

There were differences between the experiences of lesbian and heterosexual couples, with the latter’s decision to use donor conception often being taken in the shadow of infertility problems.

Throughout the talk Carol used powerful quotes from families that demonstrated the human significance of these donor-related issues. To end, she shared a moving quote that highlighted some of the other difficulties faced by couples. It detailed the dilemma faced by a heterosexual couple where the male was in favour of using his brother’s sperm, rather than a stranger’s, while his partner was not.

Carol asked the audience whether they should use a stranger’s or the brother’s sperm and, for a moment at least, we all appreciated the difficulty inherent in donor conception and the need to support families going through it.

Daphne Jackson Trust research conference 2013

The University of Exeter’s Dr Betina Winkler presented her research at the Daphne Jackson Trust research conference after she ended a career break wth the help of a fellowship from the Trust. Betina told us more…

This was the second research conference the Daphne Jackson trust organised and it was a great success. It took place at the Royal Society, London on October 25 and provided a great opportunity for the fellows to present their research.

The trust currently supports 42 fellows and most of them took part on the conference. Many universities and sponsoring organisations were also present.

The research presented encompassed a wide variety of disciplines and the quality was amazing. The prize for the best poster was won by Dr Tamsin Majerus of Nottingham University for her study on ‘Comparative genomics of colour-pattern variation in the two-spot and ten-spot ladybirds, Adalia bipunctata and Adalia decempunctata’.

The prize for best oral presentation went for Dr M. Maskey of Newcastle University for her presentation on ‘Using virtual reality environments to reduce anxiety in young people with autism’.

I gave an oral presentation on my research on ‘Habitat characteristics and the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle’. The response was very positive and attracted a lot of interest.

The conference always provides a great opportunity for the fellows to meet and exchange their experiences. There was a time allocated for networking and looking at the poster session.

It is inspiring to meet so many talented researchers  working hard to restart their careers after a break.