PubhD Leicester July 2016

PubhD Leicester turns 18 the day before we get a new prime minister so we know that PubhD can’t have voted for her. Despite having the key to the door, the format remains the same – 3 researchers, 10 minute talks, 20 minute Q and A.

First up this month is Joe, who is producing an oral history of England rugby union players from 1945-1995.

But why those years? Well, as we know, 1945 was the end of World War 2 and signified the start of a new era of British sport as it restarted following the end of hostilities. 1995 was the year that rugby union became a professional sport – players started to be paid to play. Before that rugby union had been one of the sports that had remained amateur for the longest. While there were occurrences of “boot money”, where players would find money in their boots after a game, so-called shamateurism was frowned upon in England, which remained very amateur until 1995.

Rugby union changed significantly over the fifty years of post-war amateurism. From playing in front of just the people in the stadium to rugby union becoming a global televised sport. The introduction of world cups, sponsorship, autobiographies and players becoming celebrities in their own right.

Joe has interviewed 30 players who played for England in this time frame, ranging from Rory Underwood who played 85 times for England, scoring 49 tries to John Collins, who played 3 times in 1952.

The years between 1945 and 1995 were a period of huge changes in the education system in England. What were the educational backgrounds of the players? What jobs were the players doing? What do those jobs tell us about working in England? What do they tell us about class? Is rugby union a middle-class sport and does this change as it gets more popular through things like matches being regularly televised? Many of the players went to either grammar school or private school and there were a lot who didn’t even like the sport before they were made to play it at school. The most popular job among the players was teacher and there were very few manual or working-class jobs.

Key learning: John Collins’s England debut was delayed by two weeks due to the death of King George

Our second speaker is Kathleen who, for want of a better phrase, is studying sex robots

Robotics is interested in the difference between being a person and being a thing. Person – humans, men, women, children. Thing – object, commodity, chairs and robots. This distinction is not as self-evident as it seems – what if we used people as things? Aristotle lived in a slave-owning society and wanted to make a rationalisation of this. So, they claimed that tools could be animate or inanimate – slaves, and women for that matter, were property. But are we really free today? Are we still slaves? If we don’t own property, are we property?

Robots as people – should machines have rights? As we saw with something like Tamagotchi, once you anthropomorphise an artefact, it reflects back to you that it has feelings. If we relate to an object as if it is alive, then it is alive. If it displays qualities of “aliveness” then it is alive. Embedded in the idea of machines is the idea of humans.

We still live in a culture where man is considered the pinnacle – then women; children; animals; objects. Now we have the idea of man and robots/AI agents and women etc are still beneath them. These models persist in our culture and impact how technology is developed. Instrumentalise a person and then make a machine of the instrument. The next stage is moving from human-computer-human interaction to human-computer/AI/robot interaction. Thus cutting out the human and seeing a commodification of human interactions.

Key learning: The word “robot” comes from the Czech for “working more”

Finally we have Jasmine who is researching space plasma

Earth has a magnetosphere – magnetic lines in a dipolar formation. This field is filled with a plasma (a gas containing positively and negatively charged particles) The sun also has a similar field and associated plasma. This is what creates the solar wind. When this encounters the Earth, you get a boundary formed containing the Earth and its field – a cavity formed in the solar wind. This is the magnetosphere.

How does the density of the plasms change in the magnetosphere? The plasma can become energise and this leads to a geomagnetic storm. This can have a huge effect on any satellites and so the European Space Agency is preparing a mission to investigate.

The Cluster mission was launched in the year 2000 and is four spacecraft that orbit the Earth. These craft sample all regions of the magnetosphere to see how they vary with time. Being able to predict times of high density can help us to know when to switch off satellites in order to protect them.

Key learning: The 1st Cluster mission didn’t make it into orbit – it blew up

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