A fairly large contingent of members from our WI attended the Investigation and Discovery Day at the AVDC Gatehouse in Aylesbury. If I had been told that nearly 200 WI members would sit enthralled listening for an hour to a talk on Maths at 10.15 in the morning, I would never have believed it. Adam Kucharski who is an Assistant Professor in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine talked about how epidemics can be fought by the use of maths to predict the spread of diseases. Early intervention and co-operation through WHO is vital in dealing with epidemics. We heard about recent outbreaks and Adam showed us how his graphs plotted the true rise and fall of infection rather than the panic reaction reported in the media. Unfortunately, he does think that the biggest threat is another strain of flu which could sweep quickly across our shrinking world.
Then it was the turn of Helen Arney to explain some physics and astronomy accompanying herself on the guitar as seen on TV and at the Edinburgh Fringe. She concluded her entertaining presentation by singing the periodic table to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan. Before lunch there was a brief talk by an emergency motorbike rider from SERV OBN, the rapid response team who wanted to tell the Bucks WIs that the organisation had speakers available to come to meetings to raise funds for what is a very worthwhile service manned by volunteers.
Denise Smythe-Wright was an Honorary Research Fellow at the Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems in Southampton and is now the President of the International Association of Physical Sciences of the Oceans, advising on climate change at World conferences such as the next G7. She talked about her life travelling across and under every ocean as she analysed sea water and tracked plankton distribution in their currents. Denise designed and built her own equipment. She explained about the effect of melting glaciers and the shrinking icy coasts of Greenland on the jet stream which we all knew a little about and the thermohaline circulation of water which we didn’t. Of course, in Bucks WIs this year, debate touched on pollution through micro-plastics but also halocarbons and iodine.
The final speaker was Dr Giles Yeo who is working on genetics and severe human obesity at Wolfson College, Cambridge and at the Medical Research Council’s Metabolic Diseases Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He has appeared on the Horizon TV series. Giles is a very dynamic speaker, entertaining to listen to but he explains clearly complex ideas. We learned about the importance of leptin which is the hormone which inhibits hunger. It tells the brain when the human body needs food. Many of the cases of obesity are because of the absence of this vital hormone which can also cut off the immune system and prevent puberty.
It was a fascinating day and everyone went home feeling that they had learned a lot and enjoyed the day. There was a representative from WI Life present again but I shall be very surprised if an account of the day is ever printed in its pages which is a shame as WI members in other federations would benefit from these informative days on science and discovery.