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Essential Science

The Universe in Plain English

Public Lectures by Dr Colin Frayn


"Essential Science" - A series of talks by London-based educator Dr Colin Frayn, aimed at explaining the most important theories in modern science to anyone and everyone, regardless of background or education.


Colin began his academic life with a top first-class degree in Astrophysics from the world-leading Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University. He followed that with a PhD on the evolution history of nearby galaxies, under the supervision of Prof. Gerry Gilmore, a world authority on stellar populations.

Since leaving Cambridge, Dr Frayn has pursued a diverse range of research interests from artificial neural networks and evolutionary computation through to financial modelling and game playing. He is the author of an International Master strength chess engine, as well as being a co-author of the world-record breaking ChessBrain project.

Outside academia, he has a great passion for music, being an accomplished classical violinist and singer. He also enjoys cookery, investing and travel writing. He is the author of several books, many published for free download online. His latest, "The Polished Savage", covers the interface between Darwinian evolution, psychology and traditional self-help techniques; a comprehensive operator's manual for our species' complex mind.

Lecture Themes

Dr Frayn has lectured on a range of topics from galaxy evolution to animal communication. The unifying theme of all of his talks is that the scientific world is one of intrigue and dynamic change, creating a vast melting-pot of ideas and inspiration which can and should be used to drive human society forward.

Learning can and should be a form of entertainment. Colin is a passionate advocate of education, but not in the traditional approach of dry, academic discourse. His research has shown him that humans learn best when allowed to interact with the subject material, and visualise the topic in question by means of analogy and creative metaphor.

Dr Frayn is willing to lecture on any topic in science, with a focus on the public (non-expert) audience. He firmly believes that there is no subject in all of science so complicated that it cannot be taught in under an hour, at least to a fundamental level of understanding. He does not accept that the traditional measures of 'school smarts' and IQ are an effective rating of an individual's capacity to learn. In his experience, learning is limited only by an individual's desire to absorb new knowledge and a teacher's ability to explain that knowledge in a way resonant with the student's natural ability.

Current Talks

Dr Frayn has lectured on the following topics. He is always looking for suggestions for new topics with which to expand his repertoire. For specific enquiries, please contact the address below.

Mergers, Sabotage and Cannibalism
The Gruesome Secrets of our Galactic Neighbours

Fifteen billion years ago, the Universe was born. And since that fateful event, it has become a raging battlefield, witnessing clashes of such dramatic magnitude that the entirety of human conflict pales in comparison. In this talk I examine the vicious soap-opera that is our local galactic neighbourhood and explain how, through investigative techniques that would make Sherlock Holmes proud, astronomers have been piecing back together the story behind the cosmic whodunnit.

Nature's Best-Kept Secrets
Learning from Evolution

What can you do with three billion years and a lot of trial-and-error? Well, that all depends on whether you learn from your mistakes. Nature has done just that, and the fruits are all around us. The power of the process of evolution is undeniable, yet rarely appreciated. So what lessons can we learn from nature, and how has science stolen these highly-polished techniques in order to vastly improve our own lives?

Why Do Honeybees Dance?
How Communication in Nature Achieves the Incredible

Communication in the natural world can take many forms, only some of which are based on sound. Ants lay chemical trails to alert their colleagues to sources of food, and bees communicate through a series of elaborate dances. Simple communication can lead to extremely complex and efficient behaviour, from the construction of immense termite mounds, to the operation of the world's financial markets. By learning the secrets of nature's most ingenious communicators, we can harness their power to improve our world.

32,000 Heads are Better Than One
Why Distributed Computation Isn't Just for Detecting Aliens

The 21st century has heralded the birth of "phone a friend" culture. There is no need to know everything, so long as you can find someone else who does. The internet has allowed anyone to find the answer to nearly any question, at the touch of a button. But it does much more than that - it allows humans to do what they're best at - to cooperate. The history of human dominance on planet Earth shows how cooperation can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. And we're all familiar with the efficiency of 'strength in numbers'.

Distributed computation is all about pooling our resources to tackle the largest problems that face humankind. It has been used to decode the human genome, to help cure cancer and to explore the working of many chemicals fundamental to life. But how exactly does it work, and how is this revolutionary technology going to impact the world of you and I?


If you have any further questions, please contact Dr Frayn at colin@frayn.net.

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This page is maintained by Colin Frayn
Last modified 8th December, 2007