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Food for Thought

 September - November 2013

7:00 - 8:30 p.m.

Raymond Building R2-045

Macdonald Campus
21,111 Lakeshore Road
Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue
Free parking available
(Horticulture parking lot)
For info: 514-398-7709



This year, the Food for Thought Lecture Series is once again revisiting "BIG ideas", a theme that we looked at ten years ago! How have things changed? What progress, if any, has been made in various fields? Join us for what promises to be a very thought-provoking series. The series will be hosted by Professors Don Smith and Tim Geary.


September 10

Strange New Worlds and the Quest for Life Outside the Solar System

Dr. René Doyon
Professor, Université de Montréal

Born in Thetford Mines (Québec), René Doyon obtained his BSc in 1985 and an MSc in 1987 from the Université de Montréal. He obtained a PhD in astrophysics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology and Medicine in London (UK) in 1991. He is currently professor at the physics department of the Université de Montréal, Director of the Mont-Mégantic Observatory and principal investigator of the Canadian science instrument aboard the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an $8B 6.5m infrared space telescope scheduled for launch in 2018. JWST is developed in collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Dr. Doyon's main science interests include the search and study of exoplanets – planets outside the Solar System - and the development of complex state-of-the-art astronomical instrumentation. Aside the JWST project, he is also actively involved in other international projects aiming the detection and the study of exoplanets, including the Gemini Planet Imager, a powerful instrument for capturing pictures of exoplanets and SPIRou, an instrument optimized for the detection of Earth-like planets. He is member of the international science team that obtained the first images of a multiple planetary system outside our Solar system, a major discovery that made the headlines worldwide in November 2008. His awards and distinctions include the 2009 P.G. Martin award from the Canadian Astronomical Society, the 2010 John C. Polanyi from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the 2009 Newcomb Cleveland Prize awarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientifique de l’année 2008 from LaPresse/Radio-Canada and the 2011 Médaille de l’Assemblée Nationale.

September 24

The Higgs Boson: Why, how and so what?

Dr. Brigitte Vachon
Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Experimental Particle Physics

Brigitte Vachon is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Particle Physics at McGill University. She earned a BSc in physics from McGill University and then a PhD in particle physics from the University of Victoria, British Columbia.  She joined McGill in 2004 after completing postdoctoral work at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab).   Her research consists in the study of the elementary constituents of nature and their interactions.  Dr Vachon's interest is primarily on the study of physics phenomena at the energy frontier and she specializes in the development of complex trigger systems for large multi-purpose particle detectors.  As a member of several international collaborations, Dr Vachon has co-authored well over three hundred peer-reviewed articles.  She is a contributing member of the ATLAS international collaboration that reported the discovery of a new subatomic particle in July 2012.

October 8

Antibiotic resistance: are plagues of the past plagues of the future?

Dr. Cédric Yansouni, MD, FRCPC, DTM&H
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Infectious Dis.) Department of Microbiology, J.D. MacLean Centre for Tropical Diseases

Cédric Yansouni is an Infectious Diseases physician and a Medical Microbiologist, and completed his sub-specialty training at McGill University in 2009. He was a visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp from July 2010 to June 2012, working on the development and field-validation of diagnostic tools for Neglected Tropical Diseases, and is currently Assistant Professor at the McGill University Health Centre. In much of the world, the lack of diagnostic lab capacity is a key barrier to surviving severe infections.  Dr Yansouni's research focuses on improving diagnostic capacity in low resource or remote settings. His current activities include (i) projects in Ethiopia and Montreal on field diagnostics for a fatal parasitic disease called visceral leishmaniasis and (ii) a study in rural DR Congo aimed at being smarter about how we use existing rapid tests.  Remote communities in northern Canada face similar barriers to care, and northern Québec is currently facing epidemics of tuberculosis, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. Dr Yansouni and his colleagues would like to examine whether timely access diagnostics in remote areas could stop these and improve care of other infections.

October 22

Re-evaluating the “Missing Link”: Could a Century of Assumptions about Human Evolution be Wrong?

Dr. Michael Bisson
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

Professor Michael S. Bisson is a paleoanthropologist who specializes in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic of Africa and Western Eurasia.  His current research focuses on the transition between the Lower and Middle Paleolithic (c. 300,000 BP) in the Eastern Mediterranean, the corridor for most human dispersals out of Africa. He has taught courses on human evolution and world prehistory at McGill for the past 38 years, and has appeared in television documentaries on human evolution for the BBC, Discovery Channel and TF-5 (France).

November 5

Big Ideas and the Brain: Prefrontal Cortex and Working Memory

Dr Michael Petrides
Director Neuropsychology/Cognitive Neuroscience Unit MNI

Dr. Michael Petrides is examining the function of the different areas of the frontal cortex and their interaction with parietal and temporal areas in cognitive activity, particularly planning and working memory. For instance, he has shown that the ability to monitor self-generated, intentional actions in working memory depends on a specific part of the dorsolateral frontal cortex, which interacts with the parietal cortex during the mental manipulation of information. He also examines the cytoarchitecture and connectivity of the different cortical areas. Dr. Petrides is also studying single cells in this region of the brain to determine the specific neural activity that underlies working memory monitoring.

November 19

A Machine that Runs Without Us: Big Data and the New Technocracy

Dr. Darin Barney
Associate Professor, Director Graduate Program in Communication Studies, Department of Art History & Communications Studies

Darin Barney is Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at McGill University. He is the author of several books on technology and politics, including Prometheus Wired: The Hope for Democracy in the Age of Network Technology (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and Communication Technology: The Canadian Democratic Audit (UBC Press, 2005). His current work explores the meaning and possibility of politics under technological conditions, with a specific focus on the politics of infrastructure.