21st August 2014, 8:49am
Lincoln scientist to deliver Charles Darwin Award Lecture
British Science Festival An expert in animal welfare will illustrate how mathematics can help us better understand the complex and sometimes bizarre behaviour of pets, livestock and wildlife after she was chosen to deliver one of Britain’s most prestigious public lectures.

Dr Lisa Collins, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, has been selected to present the Charles Darwin Award Lecture at the British Science Festival on Saturday, 6th September 2014.

Each year, five academics from across the UK are chosen to take part in the Award Lecture series, with each area encompassing a different area of science.

Previous award lecturers include Professor Brian Cox, Professor Richard Wiseman and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

The Charles Darwin Award Lecture, which is awarded in the field of agriculture, biological or medical science, will see Dr Collins present her lecture ‘What can maths tell us about how an animal is feeling?’.

She will delve into a little explored wonderland of behaviours that are hidden to the human eye, but not to an algorithm. The lecture will seek to explain how mathematics can help to decode some fairly complicated and bizarre behaviours, and what this can tell us about the feelings of the animals performing them.  

Dr Collins will demonstrate how fractal analysis – typically used to describe the complexity in swirling galaxies, the ruggedness of a stretch of coastline and the structural detail of a snowflake – can be used to detect how an animal is feeling.

Dr Collins said: “Just like a galaxy, when we look closer at the behaviour of an animal, we can see that the level of detail changes compared with when we view it from a distance. Recently, my research team has been looking to see how the detail changes depending on the level of magnification and what that means for animal feelings. The results are surprising: it seems the more complex the behaviour, the happier the animal.

“Over the coming decades, with the human population growing rapidly and the demand for animal meat and products increasing, together with a simultaneous demand for cheaper meat and animal products, animal welfare risks becoming a luxury rather than standard. Knowing how the practices we are subjecting animals to affects how they are feeling is a critical part of being able to alleviate this future problem.”

This research is at the forefront of animal welfare science and Dr Collins will be involving her audience in a Dr Doolittle-style clinic in which they will be asked to interpret a series of animal behaviours.

The British Science Festival, organised by the British Science Association, is the largest public showcase for science in the UK.

This year’s event will be held from 6th to 11th September 2014 in Birmingham.

For more information on the British Science Festival go to http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/british-science-festival/birmingham-2014
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