LGBTQ+ STEMinar 2020


The 5th LGBTQ+ STEMinar will be held at the University of Birmingham on 10 January 2020.  Follow along on twitter using the hashtag #LGBTSTEMinar20. You can access the conference website here.

The conference is designed for people who work or study in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and identify as LGBTQ+. We aim to use the day to showcase work from diverse fields and to encourage collaborations between different departments, Universities, companies and subjects. We also welcome those who may not identify as LGBT but wish to discover and support the work that LGBTQ+ people are doing.


Registration and abstract submission are now closed!

Registration deadline: 20 December 2019

Abstract deadline: 25 October 2019 (talks) or 29 November 2019 (posters)


9:00 – 9:30 Registration & Breakfast – Wolfson Centre for Medical Education Breakfast Sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry

9:30 – 9:40 Introduction – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre, Tyler Kelly, Local Organisation Lead

9:40 – 10:10 Keynote – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre, Marina Logares Universidad Complutense de Madrid

10:10 – 11:10 Oral Presentations – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre

Nathan Woodling (UCL) Dori Grijseels (University of Sussex) Marcus Lohr (Open University)

11:10 – 11:40 Coffee Break – Common Area, Sponsored by the University of Birmingham School of Mathematics

11:40 –12:20 Oral Presentations – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre
Simon David Clark (University of Liverpool) Claire Davies (University of Exeter)

12:20 – 13:00 Flash Poster Presentations – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch – Common Area

14:00 – 14:05 Welcome to the Afternoon Session – Leonard Deacon Lecture, Theatre Prof. Tim Softley FRS (PVC of Research at the University of Birmingham)

14:05 – 15:05 Oral Presentations – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre
Claire Malone (University of Cambridge) Matthew Young (University of Nottingham) Jon Davies (University of Exeter)

15:05 – 15:45 Coffee Break – Common Area

15:45 – 16:10 Professional Development Parallel Sessions
Robert Farley (NHS) – Developing LGBTQ+ Leadership in STEM
Claire Davies (University of Exeter), Avery Cunningham (University of Birmingham) – Creating and Running LGBTQ+ STEMM Networks

16:20 – 17:00 Oral Presentations Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre Emily Harford (UK Atomic Energy Authority) Kirk Taylor (Imperial College, London)

17:00 – 17:10 Closing Remarks – Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre, Alex Bond (National History Museum) Beth Montague-Hellen (University of Nottingham)

17:10 – 18:15 Poster Session

18:30 – Networking Social – The Loft Lounge – B5 6RG (map)


Oral presentation abstracts

PLENARY: Marina Logares (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) The LGBTQ+ invisibility
While all of us, in the LGBTQ+ community, may feel invisible to the mainstream cultures around the world, especially in STEM, I shall focus on the double discrimination by being female and LGBTQ+, always keeping in mind that this is the story of all of us. In this talk, I would like to raise questions and encourage visibility as well as support among each other through some data collected in EU, UK, and Spain, as well as personal experiences as an out lesbian mathematician.


Nathan Woodling (UCL) What can fruit flies tell us about ageing, dementia, and the fountain of youth?

Human life expectancy in developed countries has risen steadily at the astonishing rate of three months per year over the past century, with a similar rate of increase predicted until at least 2030. This rapid expansion of an older population has led to an increased rate of age-related diseases including dementia, underscoring the need for biomedical research to understand the biological underpinnings of ageing. Despite the apparent complexity of ageing, shared hallmarks and biological mechanisms of ageing extend across species from invertebrates to mammals, including humans. In studying ageing, short-lived model organisms such as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster have therefore been especially useful.

In this talk, I will summarise the ongoing work of my research team to understand the factors contributing to brain ageing using fruit flies as a model organism. Using the many genetic tools available in Drosophila, we have found that a particular set of brain cells called astrocytes are capable of extending or shortening healthy lifespan. Remarkably, the functions and age-related changes in astrocytes are similar in animal species ranging from flies to humans. Our work now focuses on identifying the full set of changes that occur in astrocytes with age, and then systematically testing these individual changes to see which ones are most relevant for dementia and other age-related diseases.


Dori Grijseels (University of Sussex) How do our surroundings help our brain know where we are?

When trying to navigate through the world, we use a part of our brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is thought to hold a ëcognitive mapí which helps us know where we are. Place cells, cells that are active in a specific place in the environment, play an important role in this cognitive map.

I am interested in what information these place cells use to determine where they should be active and how this changes when the environment changes. To study this I trained mice to perform a complicated navigation task in a virtual reality environment while I recorded the activity of the cells in the hippocampus. The mice were exposed to four conditions, they had to recognise two rewarded conditions and lick for a reward when it did.

As the mice learned to perform this task, the number of place cells recruited for each condition changed depending on the condition. In environments where the animal was rewarded, the number of place cells increased over training. However, this was not the case in environments where the mouse was not rewarded.

Although we do not know the exact reason for this difference, we hypothesise it has to do with the saliency of the environments: mice will pay more attention to them if they know the environment contains a reward. Overall, this study shows the importance of external factors, such as the presence of a reward, on the population of place cells.


Marcus Lohr (Open University) Massive stars at the Galactic Centre

The centre of our Galaxy hosts several remarkable young, massive clusters of stars of great interest to astronomers. The Arches cluster hosts a couple of hundred O-class stars (the hottest and most massive main-sequence stars) and a dozen Wolf-Rayet stars (extreme massive stars which have evolved off the main sequence), providing a test-bed for our models of stellar formation, evolution and death at the top end of the mass distribution. We have carried out a new spectroscopic survey of the Arches spanning 7 years, and here report our main findings. We achieve a more than threefold improvement, over earlier studies, in coverage of the stellar population of the cluster, identifying stars down to the main sequence, which enables us to constrain the cluster age to 2.0-3.3 million years. We observe a smooth spectral progression from Wolf-Rayets, through O hypergiants, supergiants and giants, to O dwarfs, implying a coeval population of stars, without evidence of modification by binary interaction or merger. However, we also detect evidence of many massive binary stars, including an eclipsing, spectroscopic contact binary composed of a Wolf-Rayet star about 82 times the mass of the Sun, and an O hypergiant of about 60 solar masses. At formation, the more massive star would have been at least 120 solar masses, making the binary probably the most massive in the Galaxy. Such extreme objects are candidate progenitors of black hole binaries, such as those which have recently been detected through gravitational wave emission produced by their dramatic mergers.


Simon David Clark (University of Liverpool) How plants shape water: simulating changing vegetation-flow interactions under future climate change

Flooding is the most common natural disaster globally, and climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of river flood events across many parts of the world. In-stream vegetation is a key control of river flooding, reducing local flow velocities and generating turbulence to increase river depths. Rising global average temperatures is expected to delay peak biomass abundance to occur later in the year and coincide with intensified autumnal storms, creating a “perfect storm” which may exacerbate future flood events. In-stream river vegetation is therefore a valuable asset in flood management, providing potential flood control through hazard identification and through their use in encouraging flood detention zones. However, changing abundances of in-stream vegetation and their interaction with intensified storm events is poorly understood. Plant-flow interaction is a complex phenomenon that occurs across 3D space, however currently research describing how these interactions may impact future flooding is limited: historically the majority of approaches have either used laboratory experiments not representative of natural river topographies, or use 2D modelling approaches. This study applies a 3D numerical model to simulate changes to flow structures using the natural topography of the River Blackwater, UK. A scenario-based approach to consider the spatio-temporal effects of seasonal flow regime, changes to vegetative abundance, and climate-influenced changes to peak flow. This approach provided evidence that future vegetative change may considerably alter peak flow to exceed present-day flood levels. The results suggest a strong relationship between in-stream vegetation and climate change in altering flood events.


Claire Davies (University of Exeter) Flip it and reverse it: possible primordial origins for star-planet misalignments

A plethora of planetary systems with vastly different architectures to our own Solar System have been discovered since the (now Nobel Prize winning) first exoplanet detection around a Sun-like star in 1995. While unquestionably exciting, these findings challenge the very foundations of our understanding of how stars and planetary systems form and evolve. Specifically, it remains difficult to reconcile the Solar Systemís high degree of co-planarity with the substantial orbital misalignments exhibited by a significant fraction of exoplanets. These differences are commonly used to infer a planetís dynamical history, under the centuries-old assumption that planets form in circum-equatorial protoplanetary discs. However, there is mounting evidence from numerical simulations to suggest that primordial misalignments between stars and their protoplanetary discs may be common, potentially adversely affecting the habitability of the planets which form within. In this talk, I will present results from a recently published study in which I combined high angular resolution observations of protoplanetary discs with photometric monitoring and spectroscopic observations of their host stars to make the first assessment of the prevalence and scale of primordial star-disc misalignments. I will further outline how the technique of optical long baseline spectro-interferometry is essential to progress this investigation further.


Claire Malone (University of Cambridge) Fixing the standard model: pairing off particles

Our understanding of the universe around us is based on the theory that describes the particles that make up its building blocks, the Standard Model of particle physics (SM). The SM cannot, however, describe the full range of observed physical phenomena, due to, for example, the lack of explanation for the nature of dark matter and dark energy, which together comprise 96% of the universe. It also cannot justify the existence of 32 orders of magnitude between the reduced Planck and electro-weak scales, which are the highest and lowest energy scales in the SM. This is the so called “Hierarchy problem” and would imply that the recently discovered Higgs boson have a mass much higher than the observed value.
A possible solution to some of the ailments of the SM is offered by the theory of SuperSymmetry (SUSY). SUSY is now one of the strongest candidates to complete the SM. Supersymmetric particles possess identical quantum numbers to their SM counterparts except for a half unit difference in their spin. The discovery of the supersymmetric partner to the most massive quark, the top, would be fundamental for solving the hierarchy problem because it has the largest coupling to the Higgs.
Our research focuses on devising and implementing computational methods to analyse data collected by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in order to find these as yet undiscovered SUSY particles, by distinguishing them from the SM particles that have been studied in great detail already.


Matthew Young (University of Nottingham) Eating bits of yourself is important, if you’re a cell: Autophagy and Motor Neuron Disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and associated frontotemporal lobe dementia (ALS-FTLD), a form of motor neuron disease, is a complex and fatal degenerative disease encompassing the selective degeneration of the neurons controlling muscular movement, as well as those in the frontal and temporal brain regions; ultimately resulting in neuromuscular failure and dementia-like cognitive defects.

Recent research has implicated defects in the cell maintenance process called autophagy (literally meaning self-eating) in the development of several neurodegenerative conditions, including ALS-FTLD. The ability of all cells to ëeatí and remove damaged or unused components is vital to cell survival, allowing cells to adapt to stressors and to prevent the build of dysfunctional and potentially pathogenic proteins. Given that neurons are long-lived, highly specialised cells, whose individual integrity and interconnectivity is vital for the proper neurological health, they are particularly susceptible to autophagy defects.

The work detailed in this study focuses on the impact of dysfunctional mutations to the protein, P62. A key cog in the extensive autophagy machine, which has been identified as a potential pathogenic factor in hereditary cases of ALS-FTLD. Here we show that the function of P62 is not only to vital to the correct development of early neurons, but also to the maintenance of their highly polarised structure.


Jon Davies (University of Exeter) Regulatory Genomic Variation in the Developing Human Brain and Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) encompasses a range of complex childhood neurodevelopmental disorders and is prevalent within the general population at approximately 1%. The variability within the presentation of ASD can confer severe or mild dysfunction defined by three categories of behavioural impairment: deficits in social interaction and comprehension, repetitive behaviour and restricted/specific interests, and impairment in language and communication development.

Despite the advances in understanding the complex genetic basis of ASD, there remains uncertainty regarding the specific causal genes involved and the regulation of these genes throughout neural development. Therefore, the primary goal for this project is to characterise multiple layers of gene regulation during development of the human foetal cortex, facilitating a systemic exploration of varying hypotheses that could link neurodevelopmental gene regulation to ASD.

Our aim is to profile epigenetic changes in isolated nuclei populations enriched for various cell types through the use of cell sorting technology. Collaborators will perform single-nucleus isolation RNA-seq to map cell differentiation trajectories, whilst concurrently, we will apply novel long-read sequencing approaches to perform a comprehensive analysis of RNA splicing and isoform diversity. Finally, we will examine how genetic loci which have been robustly associated with ASD map back onto our generated data sets to suggest relevant and significant longitudinal changes.

In other words, we want to examine gene regulation in different cell populations at every stage of foetal brain development, in the hope of identifying key time-points during foetal development at which ASD-associated genes are being differentially regulated.


Submission information

The LGBTQ+ STEMinar offers a broad suite of submission types, form talks to posters, workshops to symposia. Specific guidelines will follow.

Research Oral Presentation
This is a presentation of your original research in a STEM discipline, typically around 15 minutes.

Professional Development Workshop
This is a workshop that is in order to provide professional development for researchers or potential researchers that work in STEM fields. This can be done in a wide way: through consultation, coaching, constructing a community of practice, lesson study, mentoring, technical assistance, etc. Proposals can achieve this in an LGBTQ environment such as the STEMinar through providing a workshop that helps STEM researchers that are LGBTQ identified progress in their careers, provide resources for aspiring STEM researchers at a more junior stage progress, provide resources for senior STEM researchers to become more trained in passing the torch to the next generation, etc.

Proposals that merely describe their personal path through STEM will be rejected as that is not productive in developing others’ careers and personal paths through STEM are dealt with through plenary talks. The key word here is workshop, and it is supposed to provide skills to the audience.

Public Engagement Workshops
Public engagement involves research specialists interacting with, developing the understanding of, listening to, and providing education of non-specialists. Proposed workshops should aid the audience in creating new ways to engage the public in the context of their STEM research.

Proposals that merely describe their personal path through engagement will be rejected as that is not productive in developing others’ careers. The key word here is workshop, and it is supposed to provide skills to the audience.

Poster Presentation
Posters typically will be a presentation of original research in a STEM discipline. Posters can be more broadly used to report data / projects in professional development or public engagement. For example, a poster about the LGBTQ Climate for Physical Sciences with statistical data was accepted last year.

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