This morning over 200 WI members and friends gathered in the Oculus at the AVDC Offices in Aylesbury for a day of Invention and Discovery arranged by the Bucks Federation's Education and Current Affairs sub-committee. This was the third of these annual meetings which have gained such a good reputation that they are anticipated keenly by loyal attendees and they in turn have spread the word at their local WIs. The first speaker was making a welcome return: Dr Kat Arney is the Public Relations Officer and Science Communicator for Cancer Research UK. She entitled her talk "Of Tree-trunks and Tumours--the evolution of cancer". In her own dynamic fashion Kat pointed out that cancer had been around in pre-historic days and went on to describe present developments in research into the disease. Dr Arney never pulls her punches in describing the threats of the different cancers but at the same time is enthusiastic about the progress made in understanding how our cells work, how they allow the cancer to take hold. With this knowledge, she is confident and hopeful that a cure can be found. Kat also explained why from the statistics bandied about in the media where cancer seems to be rampant and spiralling out of control, we must balance the fact that there is a bigger risk of cancer cells growing the longer we live and we all know that we expect to live longer.
The second speaker was Professor Susan Halford from the University of Southampton talking about the World Wide Web at 25.Professor Halford is the Head of Sociology and Social Policy which has as its remit the scientific study of the role of the web in our communities. She explained how the coming of the Web had changed our lives but also how the public had changed the original purpose of the Web. It had started as a way of bringing together scientific data for researchers in the same fields of knowledge, a read-only facility but with the development of browsers and the likes of Google, it has been taken over by the public and private user. It is still free for everyone, everywhere with 3 billion users and we can all participate as much or as little as we want. But this freedom has spawned social media which it was felt will need more stringent controls in the future. The professor also revealed just how much Big Brother knows about us all via the acceptance of cookies on our computers and i-phones which may be sold on to the open market and how Google tailors the information it provides each individual according to the data on our personal lives it has gleaned.What price security and privacy? The day is coming when the Web may be in Mandarin Chinese or Arabic so that others are not excluded from an international tool for knowledge.
After a lunch break Professor Seamus Higson from Cranfield University talked on "Nanotechnology: a hidden Gulliver's world that is all around us".We were introduced to nanoparticles which are sensitive to light and are used as biosensors in imaging cancer cells and others incorporated in skincare products, detergents and screenprinting.Bullet pills are being developed which home in on the diseased cell.Moving away to application for diabetics, nanoparticles based on carbon or soot are used to make graphene so thin and so light that extra thin slides may be used for measuring sugar levels. Tiny instruments may be fixed to the body to monitor and dose diabetes in the pancreas. Professor Higson told us about how in Japan a device can be set up in toilet bowls to check the glucose levels of every user and detect bowel cancer. Research has produced a bandage for ulcers which can keep the medical staff aware of progress underneath the dressing without having to tear it off to look and there could come a time when this information could be relayed to the clinic by mobile phone without the patient being present. This technique could be useful in the treatment of bedsores too.Contact lenses could also monitor blood sugar levels. DNA can be read in food chains or at ports to combat fraud.The listeners were swept away by Seamus' lively and fascinating presentation and left in wonder at what science and research can discover.
The final session was focussed on the work of medical detection dogs. Dr Barry Hughes described the training of the dogs and gave examples of their different roles with patients suffering from various disabilities and the wonderful way in which the dogs are able to allow the owner to feel confident in their daily lives.
And that was that... What a wonderful informative day which left us all much wiser yet aware of how little we knew: we had better go out and appreciate more in the world of science.
In the evening the local WI met to learn about another medical problem. The speaker from Hamlin Fistula UK described the suffering of women and young girls in Ethiopia
following long and difficult childbirths where the bladder had been punctured.The charity sponsors a hospital set up originally in Addis Ababa to deal with these problems but now has four others in the country to deal with 9000 women a year who are afflicted in this way. Now there is a training scheme for midwives and centres for women in convalescence preparing them to return home and earn a living. A very worthy charity and again something we knew nothing about. This was our last WI meeting in the old school building. Next month we will be in the new premises but we have been warned to come in wellies to beat the mud of the building yard now carpark and bring a torch too. Even with these dire warnings we are looking forward to the move.
The local Craft Group met together to compare the results of its first attempts at hardanger embroidery and I am afraid mine was a disaster. There were holes in unexpected places and threads running uncontrolled through the work. Luckily for my self-esteem I was not the only one and I was able to blame advancing years and failing eyesight.Anyway it is back to the needle and scissors and let's hope for a better result next time.