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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 from Faculty of Medical Sciences, 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: The rising tide of dementia: Challenges for statisticians

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

As we live longer we become more vulnerable to diseases associated with aging. Dementia is one class of such diseases that not only will touch almost every one of us either directly or indirectly but will also place an increasing burden on society. There are many different types of dementia although by far the most common is due to Alzheimer’s disease. As a statistician, my interest in dementia began with a question posed by a principal investigator on The Canadian Study of Health and Aging: “How long do people live following the onset of dementia?” I will tell the story of how my co-researchers and I sought to answer this question, and of our surprising findings, using an area of statistics called survival analysis. Like the Hydra, however, a problem solved quickly led to new questions; these will be part of the story. I will give a brief non-technical introduction to some basic principles of statistical inference, and the main ideas of survival analysis in order to tell my story.

December 11: What our data says about us - Insights into human behavior from social media

By Derek Ruths (Assistant 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: When less may be more - Why health screening isn’t always a good idea

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

Medical screening involves using tests to identify people who may have a condition or disease before there are signs or symptoms to alert us that there may be a problem. Since the 1960s, when mammography was first tested in a randomized controlled trial, enthusiasm for the idea that some diseases can be prevented through early detection has resulted in an explosion in the number of screening tests that are promoted. Some screening tests do lead to better health and longer lives. Others, however, cause harm without providing meaningful benefit and, in doing so, expend scarce health care resources that are then not available for other potentially beneficial health care interventions. Despite growing recognition that screening can both help and harm, much of the general public and  many health care professionals continue to overestimate the benefits that may be accrued by screening and fail to understand potential harms. Based on my experience with the Canadian Task Force for Preventive Health Care and my team’s research on depression screening, I will describe how decisions about whether screening is a good idea are made, as well as information gaps and misunderstandings that may lead people to incorrect conclusions, in some cases, about the benefit-harm ratio of undergoing screening tests.

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.

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