All posts by Michael Clarke

Music with Friends: The Evolution of Chamber Music — Alexandra Burns MA.B. Mus -19th August 2019

Our Speaker this week was a freel­ance musical mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional, journ­al­ist, teacher  and trum­peter. She was much involved with local brass bands and in the wider Sheffield musical scene.  Alex was to give our senses a treat, giving a pre­cise present­a­tion of her sub­ject spiced by an accom­pani­ment of musical clips and visu­als.

 

Alex com­menced her talk by defin­ing what is under­stood about Chamber Music.  It was a form of clas­sical music com­posed for a small group of instruments-traditionally played by a group that could fit, typ­ic­ally, into a palace cham­ber or in private houses as “the music of friends”.  During the Middle Ages and early Renaissance (up to about 1600) instru­ments were used primar­ily as an accom­pani­ment to sing­ers.

 Our speaker con­tin­ued by tra­cing the devel­op­ment of this style of music from the Baroque period (1600–1750) to modern times. She noted the con­tri­bu­tions of major com­posers such as Bach (1685–1750) to Shostakovich (1906–1975).  Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) was gen­er­ally cred­ited with cre­at­ing the modern form of cham­ber music as we know it.  His many works were to estab­lish the con­ver­sa­tional style of com­pos­i­tion and form that was to dom­in­ate over the next two cen­tur­ies.  But it was Mozart (1756–1791) who was to help seal its pop­ular­ity with his pro­lific output of mas­ter­pieces such as his six  quar­tets.

During this musical jour­ney we paused to listen to around ten samples from the mas­ters.  These included Haydn’s piece for string quar­tet Op 76 ‘Emperor’, Bach’s ‘Art of Fugue’ and Schubert’s ‘Trout’ com­posed in 1819. The latter was an unusual piece for the time being writ­ten for the piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Throughout the 18th Century, a com­poser was nor­mally an employee of a king or aris­to­crat and worked for the pleas­ure of their court or house­hold. Haydn, for example, was an employee of Nikolaus 1.  The turn of the 19th Century saw dra­matic changes in soci­ety and in music tech­no­logy which had far reach­ing effects on the way cham­ber music was com­posed and played.  With the decline of the aris­to­cracy, its pat­ron­age and the rise of new social orders through­out Europe, com­posers increas­ingly had to make money by selling their com­pos­i­tions and per­form­ing con­certs.  Moving ‘from ‘home to hall’ they often gave  sub­scrip­tion con­certs or ‘recit­als’, rent­ing a venue and taking receipts. Increasingly, they wrote cham­ber music not only for rich pat­rons, but for pro­fes­sional musi­cians play­ing for a paying audi­ence.

It was Johannes Brahm’s  (1833–1897)  music which provided a bridge between the clas­sical to the modern, expand­ing the struc­ture and har­monic vocab­u­lary of cham­ber music.   A good example was his second string sextet Op.36. As we moved into the 20th Century, com­posers began to intro­duce an ele­ment of ‘nation­al­ism’ into their work. Dvorak (1841–1904 ) for example, drew on both the folk music of his native  Bohemia as well the emer­ging American style and thus chal­len­ging the tra­di­tional genre.

Our speaker then moved on to explain how tech­nical changes, includ­ing the avail­ab­il­ity of new raw mater­i­als, had influ­enced the pro­duc­tion and range of instru­ments and in turn, the musical pos­sib­il­it­ies.  After 1700, the Harpsicord gradu­ally fell out of favour giving way to the piano­forte. (Its iron frames allow­ing greater robust­ness and offer­ing a wider range of tone due to the higher ten­sions now pos­sible).  List and Chopin were to devote most of their works to the instru­ment. Changes also applied to the whole range of string and wood­wind instru­ments such as the violin, cello, flute and cla­ri­net (new woods, the intro­duc­tion of thicker metal repla­cing gut strings).  Other devel­op­ments included the intro­duc­tion of the ‘chin rest’.  Ergonomics is not a new sci­ence!  Such changes were not always wel­come and led to dis­agree­ments in musical groups over such mat­ters as style and present­a­tion. The greater volumes now pos­sible allowed Chamber music to move over the years from ‘music with friends’ in the front par­lour to the con­cert hall and now back again into typ­ic­ally small aud­it­oria.  In Alex’s view, Chamber music did not lend itself well to modern amphli­fic­a­tion. 

 While the rise of pop­ular­ity in sym­phonic and vir­tu­oso music con­tin­ues, Alex thought Chamber Music will always have a place among those who play an instru­ment and like to enjoy music among friends.  And we should not forget the silent audi­ence who listen via digital media.

Alex con­cluded her most enter­tain­ing ses­sion by invit­ing ques­tions and com­ments from mem­bers. These included the future of music in Sheffield schools, the where­abouts of the Lindsey String Quartet, the appar­ent lack of English  and women com­posers, the best musical fest­ivals , the  must hear’ ten pieces to listen to, (see sep­ar­ate post) and sev­eral more.  All this revealed a number of active musi­cians in the audi­ence. Our venue is a small aud­it­or­ium. Perhaps they could get together and give us a treat?

 

WaterAid”    Peter Watson 15th August 2019

 “ Clean Water, Decent Toilets, Good Hygiene”

 In the Gents’ toilet at our venue, Christ Church Fulwood, there is a notice show­ing the facil­ity we use is ‘Twinned’ with a rather charm­ing thatched lat­rine in Zambia.  It is a reminder that we tend to take our clean­wa­ter supply for wash­ing and cook­ing, san­it­a­tion, and sewage dis­posal for gran­ted. All is provided con­veni­ently and reli­ably to our house­holds at probably-if metered and paid by Direct Debit- less daily cost than the price of Costa Coffee.

Our Speaker this week, Peter Watson, gradu­ated in Ecology from Bristol University in 1973.   He worked as a water and san­it­a­tion engin­eer for number of Water Authorities and com­pan­ies includ­ing Edinburgh, Yorkshire and Anglia.  For the last ten years of his career Peter delivered water and waste water train­ing courses, and the National Hygiene train­ing and assess­ment require­ments to water com­pan­ies’ and allied staff. 

After retire­ment, Peter wondered how he might put his work­ing life­times exper­i­ence to bene­fit others. He went on to share how his interest was aroused and how he in turn now volun­teers as a speaker to arouse, inform and update others.

Lala and her water­bucket” 

Peter con­tras­ted our lives in the UK –where we use an aver­age of 138 litres of water per head each day- with com­munit­ies  in the third world. Our speaker gained our atten­tion with a number of har­row­ing photos of urban slum and rural priva­tion. People using prim­it­ive lat­rines or earth holes which fre­quently foul water sources spread­ing such con­di­tions as Cholera and Dysentery.  On the encour­aging side, we were shown what a dif­fer­ence the install­a­tion of decent sus­tain­able if some­times low tech facil­it­ies can make (see photo at top, taken in Nigeria).  We were amused by the pic­ture of a bicycle adap­ted to pump water!   But it was the photo and story of Lala  in Zambia  which I will always recall. This young child was only four years old and one of seven sib­lings.  She had to walk four miles twice a day to carry twenty litres of water that her family needs every day. Think of the impact of all that weight, borne for per­haps two hours or more per day, on her young body. And the time wasted that could have been put to more pro­duct­ive use such as early edu­ca­tion and when older, eco­nomic activ­it­ies and skills.

While a number of agen­cies such as Oxfam had earlier involve­ment in hand­ling emer­gency situ­ations there was, by the 1980s, a grow­ing need for a more coordin­ated inter­na­tional approach with a strategy and resources to deal and find solu­tions to mat­ters on a long term basis.  It was clear that the world’s pop­u­la­tion was grow­ing and urb­an­ising rap­idly: 3 Billion in 1980 has grown to 7 Billion today. Growth for the remainder of this cen­tury was likely to be greatest in parts of Asia, Latin America and espe­cially, Africa.  Water usage was grow­ing as living stand­ards rise together with irrigation/agricultural output to feed the expand­ing pop­u­la­tion. Even today one in nine of the world’s pop­u­la­tion has no clean water, one in three has no decent toilet and one child in two dies because of unhygienic con­di­tions.

Poverty and lack of food and basic facil­it­ies can, of course, affect both men and women: but it’s the latter that seem to come off worse. Peter emphas­ised that men­stru­ation is a key area where pro­jects by his char­ity assist girls and women.  Privacy provided by a decent toilet, along with edu­ca­tion and raised aware­ness. Both can make the dif­fer­ence to encour­age a girl to stay at school.

These con­cerns about water supply and its impact on health and eco­nomic growth in an increas­ing number of third world coun­tries were the sub­ject of the ‘Thirsty World’ London Conference in 1981. WaterAid was set up as a char­ity shortly after­wards involving sev­eral UK water com­pan­ies who offered both resources and expert­ise to provide sus­tain­able pro­jects in needy nations such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, and others. While many pro­jects are small, some are large, such as the Dolaka enter­prise in Nepal which bene­fits 30000 people.  The land­scape is moun­tain­ous.  It might be good for sight­see­ing but not so good if you have to climb a dif­fi­cult ter­rain and the carry it back to your house!

 Under the Presidency of Prince Charles, the ‘Wateraid’ concept has spread to sev­eral other ‘giving ‘coun­tries includ­ing Australia, Canada Sweden and USA.  In 2010 the organ­isa­tion became a fed­er­a­tion work­ing with 34 ‘receiv­ing’ coun­tries. WaterAid receives its fund­ing from Water Companies’ (in response to a ques­tion vol­un­tary levies from cus­tom­ers), dona­tions, fun­drais­ing events (includ­ing Glastonbury) and gov­ern­ment aid grants.

Looking to the future, WaterAid is one of the part­ners with the United Nations Millennium Development ini­ti­at­ive which is seek­ing to improve the lives for dis­ad­vant­aged peoples by 2030. While it is estim­ated that 1.4 bil­lion have benefited to date from there are many chal­lenges ahead.

 

 

 

 

The Princess and the Saw — Simon Barley — 4th March 2019

                                      

 

Our speaker this week, Simon Barley, is a former GP and Medical School lec­turer.  Since retire­ment, he has developed a keen interest in the Economic History of Sheffield and has been much involved with the devel­op­ment of Kelham Island Museum and espe­cially its col­lec­tion of hand tools. He was to gain a PhD for his researches.  As he put it, “I moved from leg sores to hand saws!”.  He is author of sev­eral books and magazine art­icles on the sub­ject, with saws at the cut­ting edge.  Simon’s interest in this once over­looked area led to a long stand­ing friend­ship with Ken Hawley (1927–2014) of Earl Street (off the Moor) tool shop fame.  When Ken’s shop finally sur­rendered to the likes B & Q and his retire­ment beck­on­ing, Simon was instru­mental in cata­loguing and moving the bulk of Ken’s tool col­lec­tion to Kelham Island, where it can be admired today. The invent­ory amoun­ted to over 100,000 items, many acquired by the boxful for the cost of a few pounds and removal as dein­dus­tri­al­isa­tion hit Sheffield hard from the 1970s onwards.   But we were to be absorbed in the story of just one tool, a rather spe­cial hand­saw.

In Victorian times unin­hib­ited private entre­pren­eurs would go to great lengths to pub­li­cise their products and not only in cata­logues or trade magazines.  They would par­ti­cip­ate in the great exhib­i­tions of the era which were blessed by royal pat­ron­age.  It was with the latter in mind that many firms sought the “by appoint­ment” Royal Warrant.  It was at one of these exhib­i­tions in early 1851 that Victoria (Princess Royal 1840–1901) met her future hus­band, Crown Prince Fredrick III of Prussia (1831–1888).  By that time Prussia was by far the dom­in­ant German state, occupy­ing two thirds of that country’s ter­rit­ory.  Notwithstanding the dis­ap­proval of the Kaiser and the Chancellor, Bismarck, the match was seen in London at the time as a good way of ensur­ing good rela­tions between Great Britain and this ascend­ing power.

 

                                      

The mar­riage of Fredrick and Victoria in late 1858 was the wed­ding of the year.  Held in the chapel at St James’ Palace, the couple were showered with presents to fill their home at Potsdam, out­side Berlin.  Apparently European Royalty liked to acquire dec­or­ated tools and not least among the gifts was that of a spe­cially made back saw.  While the back was brass, the twelve inch blade was made from the finest Sheffield cru­cible steel.  It brought together the supreme skills of the saw maker’s art of shap­ing, pol­ish­ing and fin­ish­ing steel and brass, but also the designer and etcher dec­or­a­tion on the blade.  The present­a­tion etched in bas-relief on either side of the Royal arms reads:

May God’s bless­ing attend the mar­riage of His Royal Highness Prince Frederick William of Prussia with Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal of England”

 

 The dec­or­a­tion includes the two national sym­bols of oak leaves and laurel leaves, and the toe end of the blade is cut out in the form of a swan –a bird that sym­bol­ise mar­ital con­stancy.  The handle of carved ivory includes a sym­bolic cor­nu­copia (horn of plenty) and a dol­phin, and is attached to the blade by two nickel-plated screws. The brass back is engraved with the words “Presented by Messrs Taylor Brothers, saw man­u­fac­tur­ers, Adelaide works, Sheffield.” The firm was well known for its dec­or­ated saws, being the first in Sheffield to employ a firm of engravers and print­ers (James Bagshaw) to make the increas­ingly elab­or­ate designs to dec­or­ate the blades. Their fee for this mas­ter­piece was 14/6.

 

 It is unlikely that such an unusual gift would influ­ence the thirty-year happy mar­riage of Frederick and Victoria, which ended in the former’s pre­ma­ture death (of throat cancer) in 1888.  The couple were to have seven chil­dren, the eldest, Wilhelm, becom­ing Germany’s last Kaiser.   Frederick and Victoria shared a lib­eral and demo­cratic approach to public affairs and dis­cour­aged the country’s increas­ing mil­it­ar­ism which was to do so much to sour rela­tions with Great Britain and others.  This atmo­sphere encour­aged Victoria to leave Berlin and build a new home near Frankfurt am Main which she aptly named Friedrichshof Castle in memory of her hus­band. The castle was even­tu­ally to become a luxury hotel, which it remains today.

At the end of World War Two, the Castle was taken over by the American Military.  Under the cir­cum­stances it is not sur­pris­ing that easily car­ried items ‘went miss­ing’.  It is thought that a US ser­vice­man going on leave spir­ited away our unusual saw and sold or pawned it in a Paris flea market. There it remained unloved for some time before being spot­ted and pur­chased by a Swiss col­lector, Luigi Nessi.

After Nessi’s death in 2012, the saw was pur­chased by a dealer in Austria.  Our speaker was instru­mental in rais­ing the £13,000 required (by Crowd fund­ing, indi­vidual gifts and grants from vari­ous char­it­ies) to allow the Ken Hawley Collection Trust to secure this much trav­elled (but never used) treas­ure. In turn, The Kelham Island Trust is indebted and grate­ful for being able to bring back to the city of its man­u­fac­ture one of the most remark­able tools ever made here.  It is on dis­play in the Saw Wall in the Gallery- go and have a look!

 

Follow the link below for more inform­a­tion on Kelham Island Museum:

http://www.simt.co.uk/kelham-island-museum

 

                       

 

 

 

 

 

BRITONS & BREXIT” Professor Anthony Taylor 7th January 2019

 

Our speaker this week, Antony Taylor, was Professor of Modern History at Sheffield Hallam University, a spe­cial­ist in polit­ics and cul­ture.  His topic could not have been more top­ical, as the cur­rent Brexit debate raged around us in Parliament and the media.

Tony emphas­ised from the start that his talk was not about the pros and cons of leav­ing the European Union and that he would try to give an even handed inter­pret­a­tion of events.  The present impasse, he argued, owed much more to long term traits in our (four) coun­tries’ char­ac­ter­ist­ics than to more recent con­cerns such as back­stops and con­trol of bor­ders. Brexit raised mul­tiple issues around British iden­tity and cul­ture and promp­ted ques­tions about the forces that shaped it.  It could even be argued that British atti­tudes to Europe go back to the events of 1066 and the Norman Conquest; the influ­ences from which still res­on­ate on Britons today.

Brexit had emphas­ised the frac­ture lines between London, its met­ro­pol­itan elite, and the rest of the coun­try, between cities and towns, sea­side and inland, the Celtic nations, young and old, gradu­ates and non-graduates.  There was now a crisis of ‘Britishness’ and con­fid­ence in many British Institutions had waned.  Many of our national insti­tu­tions com­manded the respect they once did.  The BBC, the Civil Service and the NHS were  under scru­tiny and even the Monarchy had had its dif­fi­cult moments.  At the same time we have wit­nessed the rise of Celtic nation­al­ism.  The 2015 General Election saw the SNP sweep the board in Scotland while the two main national parties emerged weaker with their pos­i­tion more fra­gile and divided.

At the same time there has been a revival of ‘Englishness’ if not entirely of the ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ or rose-covered cot­tage, Morris dan­cing vari­ety.  A recent poll showed 70% of those who self-identity as English voted for Brexit; 70% of those who self-identify as British voted remain, espe­cially people of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic back­ground. Englishness, Tony thought, was a more vis­ceral iden­tity than Britishness, quot­ing from Daniel Defoe’s ‘Trueborn Englishman’ :  “From this ill-born amphi­bi­ous mob began/that vain, ill-natured thing, an Englishman” and less the left felt neg­lected, from George Orwell and Billy Bragg.

Nothing has become of a pro­posed Yorkshire Parliament that could argue its case along the lines of those in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast.  Tony thought that the absence of bind­ing, gov­ern­ing insti­tu­tions that could be described as truly ‘English’ were a factor in Brexit voting and issues of regional con­cern were not being addressed in devolved Government agen­das: there had been a rebel­lion against power­less­ness.

Having com­pared the impact ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ on Brexit, Tony Taylor turned to events in our own life­time.  The present crisis of British nation­hood, he argued, began in the 1950s and 1960s. Again, there were ref­er­ences to lit­er­at­ure of the period which our speaker con­tras­ted to that writ­ten only eighty years earlier.  Sir John Seeleys “Expansion of England” (1883) and Joseph Chamberlain’s speeches with their pat­ri­otic talk of ‘Imperial fam­il­ies and mis­sion’ and ‘sons of Britain and Empire’ were matched against an era of with­drawal and decline, depic­ted in such offer­ings as John Manders “Great Britain or Little England?” and Kingsley Martins’s “Britain in the Sixties: The Crown and the Establishment” (both Penguins cost­ing 17.5p!).  The sun was set­ting and winds of change were blow­ing Union Jacks down, not just over Suez but in over 40 colon­ies around the world. Aden in 1967 was the last ‘colo­nial war’. It is unlikely today that any Dominion Prime Minister would declare him­self, like Sir Robert Menzies, ‘British to the boot­straps’. But it was, per­haps, an American, Dean Acheson, who summed it all up in 1962 “Britain is a coun­try that has lost an Empire but not yet found a role”.

And so we arrived at post-imperial Britain along with nos­tal­gic ‘Dad’s Army’ and Bruce Forsyth’s “Backing Britain” (both 1968). On the polit­ical front, Britain saw its future in Europe’s then Common Market finally join­ing in 1973.  It has always been a frac­tious rela­tion­ship with a ref­er­en­dum pro­du­cing the narrow ’Brexit’ vote of 2015.  Tony con­sidered that neither Europe nor the Commonwealth had been a sub­sti­tute for Empire, inter­est­ingly its loss of oppor­tun­it­ies being felt dis­pro­por­tion­ately in Scotland which could no longer feel part of the imper­ial endeav­our. Several prom­in­ent UKIP mem­bers such as Douglas Carswell, had an Imperial back­ground. Post-imperial Commonweath per­spect­ives how­ever, never entirely dis­ap­peared.  Michael Shanks, in “The Stagnant Society” (1961) believed that entry into the EEC had to be coun­ter­bal­anced by con­tinu­ing pref­er­en­tial trade with the Commonwealth.  That view per­sisted to this day but the world has moved on.

Tony Taylor con­cluded his talk with a brief resume of other factors which might have impacted on the Brexit vote.  These included broader and emer­ging trends in the modern world. Despite recent Russian resur­gence, the end of the Cold War in 1990 has led to a weak­en­ing of the old Atlantic view and the ‘spe­cial rela­tion­ship’. The US is now strug­gling to con­trols its interests and, in common with Europe, the rapid rise of China is an emer­ging threat.  National cul­tures are being washed away by glob­al­isa­tion lead­ing to enfeebled state sys­tems that struggle to con­trol mil­it­ant region­al­ists from Spain to Scotland.

Professor Taylor con­cluded his present­a­tion at that point and invited ques­tions. A ses­sion of about 30 minutes fol­lowed when a ride range of issues were dis­cussed, many being of the ‘how do we get back con­trol of our borders/money/laws’, ‘where do we go from here’ and ‘what hap­pens if’ ‘vari­et­ies.  It was a most stim­u­lat­ing and inter­est­ing morn­ing, for which our speaker received warm applause.

 

MICHAEL CLARKE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: CLUES FOR A CURE — Dr Rosie Staniforth 3rd September 2018

 

 

 

There has a notice­able increase in media atten­tion in recent years to the matter of ageing and it asso­ci­ated health prob­lems and espe­cially mental health.  We all know people suf­fer­ing from the symp­toms includ­ing memory loss, con­fu­sion, mood changes and com­mu­nic­a­tion skills and will have observed that Alzheimer’s becomes more common with advan­cing age.

Our speaker this week is a lec­turer in Sheffield University’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.  Perhaps because her sub­ject was so rel­ev­ant to our mem­bers’ age group she not only spoke to a full house but cap­tured the interest of those present.

Dr Staniforth com­menced her present­a­tion with an out­line of her subject’s his­tory and a sum­mary of past research.  It was a story of much achieved but, like a long jour­ney, still much to be dis­covered before the des­tin­a­tion is reached.

Alzheimer’s Disease –the most common (about 70% of cases) form of Dementia- is now one of the lead­ing causes of death, still behind Cancer but now edging ahead of chronic heart dis­eases.  There are around 850,000 suf­fer­ers in the UK, a figure set to rise to over two mil­lion by 2050.  Despite this rapid growth, research fund­ing –both public and private- is pro­por­tion­ately way behind those dis­eases, com­mand­ing only 3% of med­ical research and expendit­ure in this coun­try. Dr Staniforth wondered if this was a symp­tom of an ageist soci­ety or faith in our abil­ity to under­stand the brain.  Despite the fund­ing prob­lems, the sci­ence into the causes and mech­an­isms of Alzheimers’s dis­ease is ongo­ing and we know that mul­tiple factors con­trib­ute to the devel­op­ment of the dis­ease.  These include dam­aged pro­teins, genet­ics, neur­onal energy fail­ure, inflam­ma­tion and vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

The dis­cov­ery of Alzheimer’s dis­ease is attrib­uted a German Scientist of that name.  Alois Alzheimer (1864–1915) was a Psychiatrist and a Neuro Pathologist who worked in the fields of epi­lepsy and lunacy, ini­tially in Frankfurt am Main.  Drawing on the work of the Polish-born sci­ent­ist, Rudolph Virchow (1821–1902) and others, Alzheimer was the first to dis­cover the import­ance and impact of the build-up of nat­ur­ally occur­ring pro­teins on the func­tion of the brain.  He found there were two main types of pro­tein which, as the dis­ease pro­gresses, cause more and more nerve cells to become dam­aged:

  • Amyloid. This pro­tein forms plaques or clumps that can ‘mis­fold’ and which accu­mu­late in the brain, caus­ing dis­rup­tion to normal mental pro­cesses, and
  • Tau. This pro­tein accu­mu­lates into tangles within nerve cells in the brain, caus­ing massive dis­rup­tion and cell death.

The aim of research is to dis­cover ways of remov­ing the amyl­oids which are toxic to the body’s nervous system and nor­m­al­ise the pro­duc­tion of Tau, together with redu­cing neuro-inflammation and other symp­toms.  Our Speaker showed us photos and dia­gram­matic examples of the brain in vari­ous stages of decay. 

Dr Staniforth con­tin­ued her present­a­tion by expand­ing on some of the research cur­rently under­way to try to find a cure for this dis­abling dis­ease.   Such research is greatly assisted by the devel­op­ment of mag­netic res­on­ance and micro­scopy equip­ment that can reveal the detail of how pro­teins clump together to form amyl­oid.  The impact of amyl­oid modi­fy­ing agents is a major area of study while another is improv­ing our under­stand­ing of how amyl­oids become toxic to the body’s nervous system.  Brain cells do not regen­er­ate as easily as other cells in the body and there was a fur­ther need to under­stand more of how the body trans­ports amyl­oids, spread­ing the toxin through the brain. Interestingly, modern drugs have not been the com­plete answer.  Everyday plants such as mint, rose­mary, sage and tea con­tain help­ful anti-oxidants but are also excel­lent at dis­solv­ing away these amyl­oids.  A great deal remains unknown and not under­stood but she was con­fid­ent that, given time and resources, cures could be found.

In con­clu­sion, our speaker touched on how we might reduce the like­li­hood of con­tract­ing Alzheimers’s and others related such as Parkinson’s and Hodgkinson’s.  She sup­por­ted the well- rehearsed advice of med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers applied to these afflic­tions as to many others: a bal­anced diet, reg­u­lar exer­cise, reduced weight, stress avoid­ance, no smoking and modest con­sump­tion of alco­hol.

Dr Staniforth’s talk stim­u­lated an unusu­ally long ses­sion of ques­tions and answers which ranged from redu­cing the disease’s effects, its early detec­tion, to the use of Marijuana.  She was warmly thanked for provid­ing a most inter­est­ing and well- presen­ted ses­sion. Hopes were expressed that a future return visit might be made to update us on research devel­op­ments in this import­ant field.

Michael Clarke

AMRC — the first fifteen years — Rab Scott 9th July 2018

Our speaker this week, Professor Rab Scott of Sheffield University, is the Head of Digital and vir­tual real­ity at AMRC, loc­ated at Orgreave on the Rotherham/Sheffield bound­ary. Not so long ago this was the loc­a­tion of a major indus­trial dis­pute which looked to the coal-dependent past but now looks to the future and the begin­nings of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

 Rab was to revive memor­ies of a fas­cin­at­ing visit made to the Centre by sev­eral mem­bers about three years ago.   A geo­lo­gist by early aca­demic back­ground at Glasgow and Sheffield Universities, his career has taken him all the way from study­ing the earth’s raw mater­i­als to lead­ing research –appro­pri­ately in Sheffield -at the cut­ting edge of present and future indus­trial devel­op­ments which seek to max­im­ise the poten­tial of mater­i­als and man­power.

Rab began his present­a­tion with a brief resume of the indus­trial envir­on­ment and the deep routed weak­nesses in the British eco­nomy which AMRC and other centres of excel­lence are seek­ing to over­come. Although we could do with more James Dysons, British invent­ive­ness and research was alive and well.  Persisting prob­lems, included a lack of com­pet­ive­ness and grow­ing trade defi­cit in man­u­fac­tured goods, low pro­ductiv­ity in per­son­nel and plant.  He thought other factors were inad­equate public infra­struc­ture, the gap between aca­demia and wealth cre­at­ing industry, ignor­ance and lack of interest in the work­ing world and ‘hands on’ occu­pa­tions by too many par­ents and teach­ers. While we need to encour­age more girls to con­sider a career in engin­eer­ing there have been a number of pos­it­ive ongo­ing responses such as the STEM ini­ti­at­ives in schools and a recent improve­ment in Treasury and local author­ity atti­tudes.

Our story began in 2001 when a small local com­pany was trying to sell Sheffield made cut­ting tools to Boeing who at the time were seek­ing to get out of the direct man­u­fac­tur­ing of com­pon­ents and move to a ‘just-in-time’ supply chain.  Having been shown the door sev­eral times the per­sist­ent owner finally per­suaded his cus­tomer to trial his cut­ting tool. Boeing finally agreed and were so impressed that they offered to go into a research part­ner­ship and in due course accep­ted the basis that other part­ners ( includ­ing rival man­u­fac­tur­ers) should be involved and make a fin­an­cial con­tri­bu­tion. Other, smal­ler firms, were also encour­aged to join. At this point Sheffield University came on board, and, armed with the spe­cified risk fin­ance what became AMAC was able to draw Government ‘match fund­ing’.

Such enter­prises as joint industry-academic centres of excel­lence in peace­time take, like seeds, a little time to grow and mature. The first build­ing, on the site of the Orgreave coking plant, was opened in 2004.  We were shown pic­tures of the deliv­ery of new machinery which was man­oeuvred through the entrance with a margin of 10cms -a good omen for an organ­isa­tion ded­ic­ated to pre­ci­sion and accur­acy!

AMRC was now to enter a period of encour­aging growth and over the next ten years or so was to add over 100 par­ti­cipants to its port­fo­lio. It was to gain a Queen’s Award in 2010.   More photos were shown of the devel­op­ing site , includ­ing the now redund­ant wind tur­bine which had design prob­lems of its own!  The Centre began to fea­ture on the vis­it­ing list of the great and good includ­ing Royalty (more pic­tures). Prince Andrew has taken par­tic­u­lar interest, open­ing ‘the fact­ory of the future’ in 2006.  Research facil­it­ies or high value or ‘ Catapults’ were to mul­tiply over the years from the ori­ginal ‘cut­ting’ tech­no­logy to cover such fields as cast­ings, com­pos­ites (such as graph­ine), digital elec­tron­ics, robot­ics ( includ­ing arti­fi­cial limbs and hands), cobots,  nuc­lear, and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence all housed in their own spe­cial­ist facil­it­ies.  These have now spread to the other side of the Parkway onto the Airport site.  

 Rab  out­lined sev­eral examples of the research being under­taken. In the air­craft industry, weight equates to fuel costs (one kilo­gram equals US $ I mil­lion over the life of an air­craft)  res­ult­ing in much effort to reduce the weight of everything from seats, engine cast­ings and land­ing gear  while improv­ing strength and reli­ab­il­ity.  Here there are cros­sov­ers with auto­mot­ive and it is thought that Maclaren’s decision to open a car pro­duc­tion nearby was much influ­enced by the Centre’s impact (they are moving pro­duc­tion of com­pos­ite panels from Austria to Sheffield).  Major firms involved in col­lab­or­at­ive pro­jects have grown from the ori­ginal Boeing (who now sup­port 20,000 engin­eers in the UK) to include BAE, Rolls Royce, Renishaw, Seimens and Toyota.  (see logo col­lage at top).  Some of these firms are involved in high secur­ity defence research and are not open to vis­it­ors.

In con­clu­sion our speaker  shared his vision for the future, telling us about AMRC’s latest devel­op­ment, ‘Factory 2050’ . This devel­op­ment will look over cur­rent hori­zons to anti­cip­ate the impact of cur­rent and anti­cip­ated tech­nical devel­op­ments and trends into the longer term.  It will lead research into the impact of a switch from a man­u­fac­tur­ing to a ser­viced based eco­nomy in the sense that most goods will become ser­vices. Supply will move on from ‘just in time’ to anti­cip­a­tion of require­ments. It will become data driven world.  He gave the example of Xerox copy­ing machines, linked to their pro­duc­tion facil­ity, that will auto­mat­ic­ally result in supply of con­sum­able powders etc based on paper usage.  Appropriately for hot weather, brew­er­ies will be able to fine tune the pro­duc­tion of lager instead of build­ing up unsale­able sup­plies. It will be a world, he pre­dicted, where con­trol sys­tems and soft­ware engin­eers at long last received the same sort of status as Doctors and Lawyers.  This was begin­ning to be reflec­ted in the improved salar­ies they received.

Professor Scott’s present­a­tion was warmly received by mem­bers, reflec­ted in the many ques­tions asked which ranged from the impact of Brexit to the out­look for industry in our city.  His responses were encour­agingly optim­istic and pos­it­ive.  We were left with the feel­ing that while the future might not be orange it could be bright for Sheffield.

 

MICHAEL CLARKE