Inaugural professorial lectures archive

2018

Building Performance Analysis

Inaugural professorial lecture by Pieter De Wilde, Professor in Building Performance Analysis, School of Architecture, Design and Environment on 10 May 2018.

Buildings are all around us, and are crucial to our daily life - they provide the space for living, working, shopping, relaxing and many other activities we undertake. Because of this, we often take them for granted. We have no problem to get a contractor to make major changes to our buildings, or to go to the local do-it-yourself store and intervene in buildings ourselves. Yet when studied closely, buildings are surprising complex. Most buildings are unique, bespoke products that provide a myriad of functions, are relevant to many different stakeholders, consist of a wide range of systems and technologies, have a long life span in comparison to other human-made objects and are often the subject of significant changes in the way they are used.

Building performance analysis is the domain within building science that studies how well a building and its systems provide the tasks and functions expected of that building. It covers a wide range of issues, such as energy efficiency, daylighting, thermal comfort, indoor air quality, occupant wellbeing and health. As modern society is strongly focused on performance and efficiency, there is an increasing interest in building performance. Yet there are still many gaps in our knowledge on the subject.


This lecture gave an overview of the domain of building performance analysis. It explored the underlying drivers that give urgency to the study of building performance, the different approaches for quantifying building performance, and it set an agenda for teaching and research on the subject.

Spectres of War in the modern city: Post-War London, then and now

Inaugural professorial lecture by Angela Smith, Professor of Modern Literature from the School of Humanities and Performing Arts on 12 March 2018.

Hervey Russell, the main protagonist of Storm Jameson’s The Mirror In Darkness trilogy, moves to London in December 1918, one month after the Armistice, ‘inexperienced, poor, ambitious, burdened.’ What she finds and what absorbs and binds her over the next few years, is a city of contrasts, a ‘brightly-coloured web’ that could offer opportunities unprecedented in the pre-war world, or might ensnare her along with all the other survivors, struggling to rebuild their lives in the face of poverty and unemployment. Jameson writes from personal experience drawing pictures of a London that was her home. For Jameson, post-war London seems organically bound to Hervey, reflecting her own successes and traumas, against a backdrop of the immediate legacy of the war. Although Hervey determines to look ahead, the war lingers everywhere, in the scars of her friends, on the city streets and in political wrangling from the socialist press to the financial impact on industry.

Hervey’s London as drawn in Jameson’s trilogy, Company Parade (1934), Love in Winter (1935) and None Turn Back (1936) is a modern city. Spanning the period between the Armistice and the General Strike, Jameson uses representations of the city to explore the politics of the immediate post-war period, developing new narrative techniques to create a cityscape that is as infused with hope for the future as it is haunted by the spectres of the past.

Eighty years later, coinciding with the centenary of the outbreak of war, Anna Hope’s novel Wake, also deals with the landscapes of post-war London, focusing on a trio of different female protagonists as a mechanism for exploring the aftermath of the war in the city. Constructed around the internment of the Unknown Warrior, Wake uses hindsight and memory to expose undercurrents of grief now a century old. While Hope engages with many of the same issues as Jameson, the intervening decades place a different inflection on the cityscapes surrounding the women. In this lecture, Angela explored the different ways in which these novels develop representations of the modern city as a narrative device, using it to move from individual to collective memory, while retaining the complexity of Hervey’s London, a ‘brightly-coloured web’.  

Desert Island Thresholds

Inaugural professorial lecture by Hilary Neve, Professor in Medical Education, Peninsula Medical School on 20 February 2018.

This lecture discussed the theories of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge and their relevance to medical education, clinical practice and to us all, as teachers, researchers and/or learners.

Hilary also drew on her own career experiences and research findings to introduce and explore the eight troublesome and threshold concepts that, were she marooned on a desert island, she would most like to spend her time contemplating.

Spinning Plates: a tale of old oceans and colliding continents

First known illustration of how the Atlantic Ocean opened from a larger, single continental assemblage, by Antonio Snider-Pellegrini, 1858

Inaugural professorial lecture by Professor Mark Anderson, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 2 February 2018.

In 2017, the Earth science community celebrated the 50th anniversary of the advent of the paradigm of plate tectonics.

In his inaugural lecture Mark reflected on 35 years as a geologist, growing-up in academia as this paradigm became central not only to the science of geology but also to the curriculum for general primary and secondary education in many countries, including the UK. The lecture was illustrated with examples of his own research from around the world, in which he examines deformation processes at plate boundaries. It is here where new plates are created and older plates are either reworked during plate collisions or else recycled into the deep mantle of the Earth.

Mark considered fundamental processes of rock deformation in the Earth, from micro- to macroscopic, along with their commercial applications. Considering himself as an honorary Devonian, despite having conducted most of his research in areas outside the South West, he paid special attention to the Devonian Period of Earth history, the globally-defined period of geological time, approximately 420-360 million years ago, to which the county lends its name.

The Future of Primary Care: Person Centred and Sustainable

Inaugural professorial lecture by Richard Byng, Professor in Primary Care and PenARC Deputy Director, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry on 30 January 2018.  

The NHS has modernised - and yet it is struggling to provide high quality care for those most in need.

In this lecture, Richard used illustrations from the Community and Primary Care Research Group’s work and his own clinical practice to describe how general practice and community-based services could radically adapt - philosophically, clinically and organisationally - to improve the experience and outcomes of patients.

The lecture was chaired by Professor Rob Sneyd, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

2017

Noisy Embryos: why variation early in development matters

Inaugural professorial lecture by Professor Simon Rundle, School of Biological and Marine Sciences on 14 December 2017.

There has been a prevailing view in biology that the way in which organisms ‘put themselves together’ is genetically controlled and fixed. Any variation during development might be viewed as ‘noise’ - a nuisance that prevents a clear interpretation of how genetic control works and that, ultimately, can lead to the death of the embryo.

In this inaugural lecture, Simon presented recent research on the embryos of aquatic animals, which demonstrates that variation in developmental itineraries can in fact be substantial, and increase when embryos experience stressful environmental conditions. He proposed that, rather than being a bad thing, such variation could be important in driving evolution and in enabling species to survive the current rapid changes to the Earth’s environment.

Technological advances in bio-imaging have been central for revealing variation in the developmental itineraries of microscopic embryos, reiterating a long-standing link between image making and embryology. In the second part of his lecture, Simon explored this connection, on a journey that included ‘idealised’ embryo drawings and accusations forgery, the computer automation of embryological measurement, and contemporary installations that draw on the scientific videos of embryonic development.

Strong and Stable Structures: tiny details and sustainable solutions?

Fibre pullout in a composite fracture surface

Inaugural professorial lecture by John Summerscales, Professor of Composites Engineering, School of Engineering on 30 November 2017.

This inaugural lecture explored how fibre-reinforced polymer matrix composites enable lightweight, stiff, strong and stable structures with wide application across, amongst others, the transport and energy sectors.

The talk focused on three research highlights:

  • how changes in fibre distribution can significantly affect the strength of the composite: the work reduces each microstructure image to a single real number (fractal dimension) then correlates data to that parameter,
  • how the fibre area correction factor allows accurate prediction of the 'highly variable' strengths for natural fibre composites, and
  • whether natural fibre reinforcements are truly the 'green' option relative to glass fibre?

John is a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Scientist. His career outside academia has included indexing patents and five years on a high-profile defence research project. His experience has evolved through chemistry, physics, material engineering and sustainability issues initially in polymers with a long-term focus on fibre-reinforced composites. His publications include 4 (co-) edited books, 12 chapters in other editors’ books, 3 patents, 72 refereed journal papers and well over 100 conference papers.

Citizen Geographies, Citizen Geographers

'Moor to Sea without the Car' book cover. Illustration by Lucy Pulleybank

Inaugural professorial lecture by Richard Yarwood, Professor of Human Geography from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 3 November 2017.

Ideas of citizenship are widely used in daily life. ‘Citizenship tests’ are used to determine who can inhabit a country; ‘citizen charters’ have been used to prescribe levels of service provision; ‘citizens’ juries’ are used in planning or policy enquiries; ‘citizenship’ lessons are taught in schools; youth organisations attempt often aim to instil ‘good’ citizenship; ‘active citizens’ are encouraged to contribute voluntary effort to their local communities and campaigners may use ‘citizens’ rights’ to achieve their goals.

In this talk, Richard drew upon his work on volunteering to argue that an appreciation of geography is crucial to understanding citizenship and its dilemmas. At the same time, he suggested that ideas of citizenship have the potential to draw together aspects of social, political and cultural geography to deepen understandings of people and place. Finally, he argued that citizenship should not just be an object of study but, rather, a way of engaging geographers with the world.

The making of the European landscape: people and pollen in the past

Inaugural professorial lecture by Professor Ralph Fyfe from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 26 October 2017.

The landscapes we inhabit today have been greatly transformed over millennia of human actions. Understanding the processes, timing and scale of change caused by society has long been of interest to a wide variety of researchers, from archaeologists to conservation ecologists, and increasingly climate scientists who seek to explain the role of land cover change in global climate. Pollen records from lakes and bogs underpin much of the reconstruction of past landscape change.

In this talk Ralph offered his perspectives of working with pollen records across a range of scales, from individual sites associated with archaeological excavations in south west Britain, to continental-scale syntheses that draw upon hundreds of records to describe the impact of the development and spread of agriculture across Europe.

The science of big boulders

Inaugural professorial lecture by Anne Mather, Professor in Geomorphology, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 30 June 2017.

As outstanding features in the landscape, boulders have long captured the imagination of humans. We have exploited them for shelter, weaponry and gold exploration. We have included them in our mythology and recreational pursuits and featured them prominently in cinema entertainment.

The name ‘boulder’ is thought to originate from the Scandinavian ‘bullersten’ (‘noisy stone’), with reference to large stones in rivers, and in the early stages of the development of the geosciences in the 18th century, large boulders were thought to be synonymous with biblical flood origins. As the science developed into the 19th century their linkage to ice transport was established.

As the geosciences progressed into the 20th and 21st centuries so too our appreciation of the possibilities for landscape interpretation offered by the humble boulder developed. Today the presence and properties of boulders have been used to understand and reconstruct extreme flood events, glacial environments, landslide activity, tsunami events, storm-generated waves and earthquake activity on Earth as well as understanding processes on comets and planetary bodies such as Mars. Recent developments in geochronology have highlighted them as valuable archives for constraining how quickly our landscape evolves using techniques such as Cosmogenic dating.

In this lecture, Anne examined how her field-based research involving boulders from tsunami, landslide and flood landforms and their deposits has contributed to our understanding of landscape change on a variety of temporal scales.

These timescales include geomorphological processes on geological timescales in exceptionally preserved landscapes of the Atacama Desert and High Atlas Mountains of Morocco through to historic flood events in Spain. Consideration was given to how this research can help us understand the engineering challenges of the future on our changing planet.

Evidence-based Practice in Education: Inspiration and Frustration

Inaugural professorial lecture by Garry Hornby, Professor of Education and Associate Head (Research), from the Plymouth Institute of Education on 31 May 2017.

The lecture focused on the development of evidence-based teaching practices for improving student outcomes, the identification of which has provided inspiration throughout Garry's career.

Eight key evidence-based teaching practices were identified from the literature and Garry's own research. Brief accounts of their theoretical and research evidence bases were provided, along with brief guidelines about their usefulness. Common barriers to the use of evidence-based teaching practices that are frustrating their implementation were discussed. Finally, guidelines were presented for ensuring that evidence-based teaching practices are embedded in the daily practice of educators.

Of crabs and men: the evolution of ritualised fighting in animals


Inaugural professorial lecture by Mark Briffa, Professor of Animal Behaviour, School of Biological and Marine Sciences on 11 May 2017.

Animals must compete with other members of the same species over ownership of limited resources such as food, shelter, territory and mates.

The resulting animal contests involve a range of aggressive behaviours from displays of strength through to outright fighting. Given its near ubiquity in the animal kingdom, the evolution of aggressive behaviour has been the subject of intense research interest, with a particular focus on an evolutionary puzzle at the heart of the topic: If Natural Selection produces selfish individuals, why do they typically show restraint during fights? Rather than fights being resolved through fatalities or serious injury, in most examples we see ritualised contests that allow losers to end the contest by deciding to give up.

Mark's research group tests hypotheses about this giving up decision, focusing on the roles of assessment, motivation and energetic costs, and drawing on ideas from the related areas of animal communication and animal personality research. Mark reviewed their work on non-injurious fighting in hermit crabs and fights that can involve injuries in sea anemones and red wood ants. As well as looking at the evolution of fighting Mark also considered how the way we study fights has ‘evolved’: Many of the ideas used to study animal contests are actually based on concepts from human behaviour, so can studies of aggression in other animals tell us anything about aggression in humans?

2016

An Inordinate Fondness for (Water) Beetles

Inaugural professorial lecture by David Bilton, Professor in Aquatic Biology, School of Biological and Marine Sciences on 1 December 2016.

Beetles have colonised water at least 20 times from different terrestrial ancestors, these events giving rise to independent aquatic radiations, many of which occur across the entire spectrum of inland water habitat types.
With more than 12,000 described species, water beetles are abundant, speciose and ecologically important organisms in almost all non-marine aquatic habitats, from water filled tree holes to larger lakes and rivers, and can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Their wide geographical and ecological range, coupled with high species richness and relatively stable taxonomy, make these insects ideal for addressing a range of ecological and evolutionary questions, as well as being fascinating in their own right – themes which were explored in this inaugural lecture.

This image shows ten species of water beetle from seven separate families, not to scale. 

Eight of the species illustrated were first found by Professor Bilton, and three of them are still to be named and formally described.

Download full-sized image as a PDF (10MB)

Soil Erosion: a global challenge

Inaugural professorial lecture by Will Blake, Professor of Catchment Science, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 7 December 2016.

Soil erosion challenges water, food and energy security. Loss of topsoil and nutrients threatens food production. Pollution and siltation of downstream water bodies impact water supply, hydroelectric power generation and the natural function of aquatic ecosystems.

Drawing from experience in logged tropical rainforest, burnt Australian landscapes, and the East African Rift System, this inaugural lecture explored how catchment science evidence from advanced soil and sediment tracing tools can support land management and soil conservation decisions. The importance of an interdisciplinary approach to tackle this global challenge, against increasing pressure from population growth and global change, was also highlighted.

From Armageddon to Xanadu: Lessons in the fine and dark arts of national climate politics


Inaugural professorial lecture by Ian Bailey, Professor of Environmental Politics, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 1 November 2016.

The Paris Climate Agreement has been heralded as a landmark in international cooperation on climate change. However, whether COP21 produced just warm words or charted a course to avoid the worst effects of climate change will depend to a very large degree on decisions taken nationally on climate and energy policy.

This inaugural lecture reflected on lessons gained from Ian's experiences attempting to understand and contribute to the advancement of national climate politics.


Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: The Human–Wildlife Health Connection

Image of child drinking water. Credit: Tom Hutchinson

Inaugural professorial lecture by Tom Hutchinson, Professor of Environment and Health Sciences, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences on 20 October 2016.

The landmark book 'Our Stolen Future' helped raise global awareness of the health risks posed by hormone mimicking chemicals, leading to major scientific advances in chemical safety assessment over the past decade.

This inaugural lecture discussed the critical linkage between human health and the environment, focusing on the early warnings from wildlife research and the major scientific contributions made to the OECD and other international chemical regulations. The lecture also highlighted the lessons learned for the future of the human–wildlife health connection.

2015

Passwords, PINs and Biometrics: Developing more secure and convenient authentication technologies

Inaugural professorial lecture by Nathan Clarke, Professor in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics, School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics on 2 December 2015. 

The world of user authentication is focused upon developing technologies to solve the problem of point-of-entry identity verification. Unfortunately, authentication approaches: secret knowledge; tokens and biometrics, all fail to provide universally strong user authentication – with various well-documented failings existing.

This inaugural lecture discussed the research that has been undertaken at Plymouth to develop a fundamentally new approach that seeks to minimise the authentication burden placed upon users, yet improves the level of security currently being provided.

2014

The importance of entrepreneurial ecosystems within regional development narrative

A networking event and inaugural lecture by Professor Gideon Maas took place to mark the first anniversary of the launch of the Futures Entrepreneurship Centre on 19 November 2014.

Gideon, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director of the Futures Entrepreneurship Centre explored the importance of entrepreneurship creating and supporting socio-economic growth.

There is no doubt that a new approach to the development of sustainable entrepreneurship is needed – a systemic approach that is more heuristic and holistic in nature. Needed is the creation of a compelling entrepreneurial narrative for regions, and from that basis the creation of  entrepreneurial ecosystems that will support the implementation of such a narrative.