Events in 2018


Cyber Security Slam

Organised by the Center for International Security and Governance and due to be held at Fritz's Cafe, University of Bonn, 30 January 2018. I've been asked to moderate the event, and I couldn't be happier. Really looking forward to it. More details to follow.


Events in 2017


Battle of Ideas 2017 - The Final Frontier: Who Owns Space?


I produced a panel discussion on the commercialisation of space for the 2017 Battle of Ideas in London. I was also one of the speakers, but the main attractions were Dr Saskia Vermeylen, senior lecturer & Chancellor’s Fellow, Centre for Environmental Law and Governance, University of Strathclyde; Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science and astrobiology, Birkbeck College, University of London; Mike Lawton, founder, CEO, Oxford Space Systems; Dr. Jill Stuart, academic, London School of Economics; researcher, politics, ethics and law of outer space exploration & exploitation; editor in chief, Elsevier journal Space Policy; and Timandra Harkness chaired the session.


(from left to right): Vermeylen, Stuart, Crawford, ZA, Harkness, Lawton. © The Battle of Ideas / Institute of Ideas

This was my provocative pitch, which was published on the Battle of Ideas web site:

Space has fired human imagination for centuries. Philosophers and astronomers – from the ancients like Ptolemy through to early natural scientists like Copernicus and, a little later, Descartes and Newton – searched the skies for answers to life on Earth. Theirs was a quest for humanity.

But our exploration of space only really took off 60 years ago when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957. The mission sparked a space race between the Americans and the Soviets. By 1961, US President John F Kennedy had decided America had to land a man on the moon. It led to the Apollo missions, achieving Kennedy’s goal in July 1969. It was a competitive time, when innovations in science and technology translated into power.

A lot has happened since then – no more so than in the past few years. Space is still about humanity, science and power. But above all, now it’s about money. We’re in a new space race, where those driving the action are not nations, but a global industry worth billions. Whether it’s Earth observation or plain surveillance, building off-planet colonies like a Moon Village, asteroid mining or tourism for the super-rich, space is ‘open for business’.

Should we worry about the private sector running away with space? Or could it be the best thing to happen to post-Brexit Britain? The UK wants a 10 per cent share of the global space market by 2030, and with the Spaceflight Bill, which sets out how the government plans to regulate launch-to-orbit and sub-orbital spaceflight activities, and plans to build commercial spaceports, it might just do it.

The problem is there’s no space law to keep commercial interests in line. The Outer Space Treaty is as old as the Apollo missions – and it still guides most space activity. It was written during the Cold War to ensure peaceful, non-commercial space exploration, and forbids anyone claiming sovereignty. But its authors did not foresee today’s rapid commercialisation of space.

So, for example, what would happen if a company built hotels on Mars – could they claim ownership of the land? Where would that leave the rest of us – homeless on the one planet that could help our species survive if something goes wrong here on Earth? Should space be viewed like ‘common land’, or would that hold back investment in exploration and colonisation? Are the rich undermining the idea of space exploration for the good of all humanity?


The European XFEL opening ceremony - 1 September 2017



Presenting the opening ceremony for the European XFEL near Hamburg was a highlight of my year. Read more about the event here.


World Health Summit 2017


ZA speaking to Professor Roger D. Kornberg and Dr. Joanne Liu © World Health Summit

Press conferences can be odd things, especially when the journalists forget that they are there to ask questions. The opening press conference at the 2017 World Health Summit in Berlin was one such affair. Nobel Laureate Professor Roger D. Kornberg, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International President, Dr. Joanne Liu, were both exceptional value.


© World Health Summit

Brexit - Keep Calm and Carry On?


What a way to start the year. The Center for International Security and Governance invited me to moderate a panel on Brexit, the UK's decision to leave the European Union. It was one of those challenges I just couldn't pass up... A challenge because there's just so much ground to cover, and so many uncertainties. The speakers were Sir Peter Torry, former UK ambassador to Germany, Dr Barbara Lippert, director of research at the Stiftung for Wissenschaft und Politik, German MEP Axel Voss, and Josef Janning, head of the European Council on Foreign Affairs in Berlin.


Torry (R), ZA (C), Voss (L) © The Center for International Security and Governance


Events in 2016


Battle of Ideas - 22 and 23 October 2016


I had a great time speaking on a panel on big data at this year's Battle of Ideas festival in London. The full title of the panel was 'Big Data: Does Size Matter?', which is also the title of a book by broadcaster and comedian Timandra Harkness, who held an opening mini-lecture. Other speakers were Will Moy, director of Full Fact, and Dr Alex Powlesland, principle scientist at Immunicore. It was part of a special strand of debates called 'The Future Now: Science and Technology'. The slogan of the festival was "free speech allowed". It was a fantastic opportunity and I was really happy to take part. Plus, it was a chance to visit the city of my birth for the first time in about five years. Maybe it's because I"m a Londoner... The Battle of Ideas was organised by the Institute of Ideas and held at the Barbican. Audio and, hopefully, a few pix coming very soon.


© Battle of Ideas / Institute of Ideas



66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting


On 28 June 2016, I hosted a "Press Talk" panel discussion on Women in Science at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Guests included Helga Nowoty, Professor emerita of Social Studies of Science, ETH Zurich, and member of the Lindau Meeting's board of trustees; Nobel Laureate Takaaki Kajita, winner of the 2015 Physics Nobel Prize; Ulrike Böhm, Max Planck Institute, Göttingen; and Young Scientist Ayesha Azez (although Ayesha failed to show).


From left: Ulrike Böhm, Helga Nowotny, Takaaki Kajita, and me. © Zulfikar Abbany


Global Media Forum

Cyber Security in the 21st century – Is there a balance between security, privacy and surveillance?


On 15 June 2016, I moderated a panel on cybersecurity at the Global Media Forum in Bonn. The discussion panel was hosted by retired US Ambassador, James D. Bindenagel, Henry Kissinger Professor and director of the Center for International Security and Governance at Bonn University. The panelists were Stefan Heumann of the foundation, neue verantwortung, Ulrich Kelber, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Member of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Kopf, Senior Vice President Public and Regulatory Affairs, Deutsche Telekom, Matthew Smith, Institute of Computer Science, Chair for Usable Security and Privacy, Bonn University. You can hear the discussion on Soundcloud.


© Deutsche Welle / Global Media Forum


Events in 2015


World Health Summit


In October 2015 I was at the World Health Summit in Berlin to co-chair a panel on "Migration and Refugee Health" and moderate the opening press conference on (11 October 2015). That's me in the sort-of middle with the World Health Organisation's Margaret Chan to my right and Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath (who was quite charming) to my left.


Photographer: Steffen Kugler / © World Health Summit. Reproduced here with kind permission.


65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting


Earlier in the year, I appeared at the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. It was a busy blast of a week. First, I presented the opening ceremony in front of 650 young scientists, about 65 Nobel Laureates, Countess Bettina Bernadotte, and the German President Joachim Gauck. Second, I interviewed two very notable scientists: Nobel Laureates Stefan Hell and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. The way the 2015 Mainau Declaration on Climate Change was pre-announced was a little odd, but so it goes. It was held from 28 June to 3 July 2015.


Screenshot © Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.
Watch the full video here.