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Cutting Edge

Initiated in 2003 with the express purpose of fostering communication between scientists in different disciplines as well as between scientists and the public, Cutting Edge Lectures in Science are made possible through the generous support of Faculty of Medical Sciences (Professor Marianna Newkirk, Associate Dean Research), Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (Professor Chandra Madramootoo, Dean), Faculty of Science (Professor Martin Grant, Dean), Faculty of Arts (Chris Manfredi, Dean) and the Centre for Applied Mathematics in Bioscience and Medicine (CAMBAM). For more information, please call 514-398-4094.

Where: Auditorium, Redpath Museum, 859 Sherbrooke Street West, Metro McGill/Peel
Seating is limited. No reservations necessary.
When: 6 PM, followed by a reception.
Cost: FREE, everyone welcome.

Most of the Cutting Edge Lectures in Science are available on iTunes U and on McGill podcasts. Go under the section entitled "Science and Technology" for video and audio recordings of Cutting Edge lectures.

September 11:

Doing chemistry with less: How chemistry can help a more sustainable economy

By Audrey Moores (Assistant Professor, Dept. Chemistry, McGill)

Chemistry is often referred to as the central science owing to its role in providing mankind with all the necessary components of its life-style, from materials to cosmetics, from food and fuels to medicines.  But many of our natural resources are peaking or will be peaking in the close future and pollution affects us and our environment broadly. Chemistry is a powerful vector to address these two questions and provide meaningful solutions for a sustainable economy. Green Chemistry is an emerging field of research concerned with designing and implementing such solutions. In the lab, we work on catalysts, i.e. additives that enable chemical processes to happen more efficiently and more effectively. We design and synthesize such catalysts that are intrinsically amenable to recovery and reuse, while limiting the use of toxic and non-earth-abundant materials. In this context, we specialized in the use of nano-sized catalysts that are intrinsically very active and provide venues for recycling. We are developing three major axes of research: we use iron nanoparticles as magnetically recoverable catalysts and as seed to afford novel catalysts with limited use of starting materials, we turned to cellulose nanocrystallites to build smart catalyst supports for applications in pharmaceutical chemistry and we are developing a novel solvent-free methodology to access nanomaterials for biomedical and electronic applications.

October 9:

Supersoldier ants

By Ehab Abouheif (E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellow, Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Associate Professor, McGill Dept. of Biology)

November 13:

By David Wolfson (Professor, Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics, McGill)

December 11:

By Derek Ruths (Associate Professor, School of Computer Science, McGill)


January 8:

Nutrients and the Brain

By John L. Hoffer (Professor,Professor, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Principal Investigator, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and Senior Physician, Divisions of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal).

Do vitamin and mineral nutrition and malnutrition affect brain function and mood? Yes, they do! Regrettably, the topic of nutrition and the brain is badly muddled by ignorance, confusion, bias and hype. This presentation aims to provide an easily understandable, rational, evidence-based overview of the topic. It will include clinical research on vitamin C we have been carrying out at the Jewish General Hospital. 

February 12:

By Luda Diatchenko (Professor, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Human Pain Genetics, Dept. Genetics, McGill University)

March 12:

By Brett D. Thombs (William Dawson Scholar and Associate Professor, Senior Investigator, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Jewish General Hospital)

April 9:

The Neuroscience of Balance: From Athletes and Astronauts to the Elderly

 By Kathleen Cullen (Professor, Physiology and Director of McGill’s Aerospace Medical Research Unit)

Aristotle described five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell and taste that provide us with a conscious awareness of the world around us.

But he missed one of our most important senses, the vestibular (inner ear) system which contributes to a surprising range of functions from reflexes to the highest levels of perception and consciousness.

The brain combines information from the vestibular system, with proprioception (or sense of body position), and vision to adjust for unexpected motion during everyday activities. How does the brain achieve this? How do athletes maintain their balance for very complex motions (imagine an Olympic gymnast doing a back flip on a balance beam)? How do astronauts adapt to Zero-G where input from the vestibular sense is altered? Why do we start to loose our sense of balance as we age?

This lecture will discuss recent (and not so recent) theoretical and experimental work that characterizes how single neurons, organized into dedicated circuits, support our ability to stay on our feet.


January 9: Lights, action, camera - Making movies of molecules and materials 

By Bradley J. Siwick (Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Ultrafast Science (Tier II), Chemistry, McGill)

Microscopy - the science of investigating objects too small to be seen by the naked eye - has a long and rich history.  Scientists have always strived to improve their view of the microscopic world in order to bring new objects and phenomena into focus.  Recent years have seen rather spectacular developments in this regard.  In this talk I will take you on a tour through this new microscopy technology (most of which does not look anything like what you might expect from a microscope) and describe what we can learn by using it. In modern laboratories it is now rather commonplace to be able ‘see atoms’. With these new microscopy tools we know what species they are, how they interact with their neighbours and can even pick them up and move them to new locations.  We can determine the structure of individual protein molecules and are getting close to being able to watch them as they perform their function.  We can make atomic-level movies of chemical reactions and image materials and cells in 3D.  All of this was the stuff of Science fiction not so long ago.

February 13: How well do we understand curvature?

By Niky Kamran (Department of Mathematics and Statistics, McGill University)

How do we describe the curvature of a geometric object, like a curve, a surface or a higher-dimensional continuum? What does the curvature of a geometric object tell us about its other properties, such as its degrees of symmetry and regularity? These questions have been studied by some of the great mathematicians of the past, including Newton, Gauss, Riemann and Cartan, and have led to the development of differential geometry, an important branch of mathematics in which the geometry of a space is studied using tools of mathematical analysis (differentiation, integration and comparison). Similar questions on the links between curvature, symmetry and regularity also come up in Physics, through Einstein's formulation of the relativistic field equations of gravitation in terms of the curvature of space-time. There have been some major recent advances in our understanding of curvature, although many questions still remain open. I will give a general description two such advances, namely the sphere theorem, proved by Brendle and Schoen in 2007, and the Willmore problem, settled in 2012 by Marques and Neves. I will also mention some open problems and work that is being currently carried out towards their solution. This talk is aimed at a general audience.

March 13: Neuroplasticity in the Adult Human Brain

By David J. Ostry (Professor, Psychology, McGill)

We frequently think of neuroplasticity in the human brain in the context of the developmental and maturational changes that occur in the brain and behaviour during childhood. Luckily, for those of us that are no longer children, the adult human brain remains remarkably plastic. A facet of this plasticity that has important clinical applications is that changes occur in both sensory and motor systems of the brain with surprisingly brief periods of training. I will tell you about a series of recent studies in my laboratory, where we see that the effects of motor learning spill over into sensory systems, and that perceptual learning may provide us with a back door to the motor system that can be exploited in therapeutic interventions.

April 10: Ecological and Forensic Applications of Remote Sensing

By Margaret Kalacska (Associate Professor, Geography, McGill)

Remotely sensed data from aircraft and satellite platforms have become increasingly important tools in geography to model landscape characteristics, monitor changes over time, as well as to locate specific features of interest.   In this presentation I will use examples from ongoing research projects to illustrate the utility of these tools for large-scale landscape characterization in both temperate and tropical ecosystems.  I will also introduce ‘Mission Airborne Carbon-13’, the first Canadian airborne hyperspectral mission to Costa Rica. From a forensic perspective I will describe recent breakthroughs in my collaborative research on clandestine grave detection in both Canadian and international contexts.

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