The Cutting Edge Lectures in Science
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.
December 12: How well have we tested Einstein's Theory of Relativity?
By Guy Moore (Associate Professor, Physics, McGill)
Special relativity is a cornerstone of modern physics. Its most basic prediction is that there is a maximum speed which any particle can attain. I will explain how an indirect experimental test of this prediction has shown that the limiting speeds of different particle types are the same to an accuracy of about one centimeter per century, one quadrillion times more stringent than the claimed detection of faster-than-light neutrinos made by an Italian physics collaboration two years ago (a result later found to be in error).
PHOTO: Neutrinos, particles which have been detected travelling faster than light. Photograph: Dan Mccoy /Corbis/The Guardian, 2011.
By Bradley J. Siwick (Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Ultrafast Science (Tier II), Chemistry, McGill)
Research in the Siwick laboratory is focused on developing technologies that will allow complex transient structures of molecular and material systems to be determined at the atomic level. In particular, this involves engineering new instruments that unite the tools and techniques of electron microscopy with those of time-resolved (ultrafast) laser spectroscopy in novel ways. They study photoinduced phase transitions in materials (order-disorder and order-order), where it will be possible to directly determine the changes in atomic configuration that accompany the system’s progress along the physical pathway between phases. These techniques arel also employed to try and understand structural dynamics in functional light-activated nanocomposite, nanostructured and organic materials. An additional area of research is structural studies of extreme states of matter (i.e. materials under the conditions existing at the core of planets, or plasmas). Extreme conditions can be prepared transiently through interaction with intense laser pulses. Some projects are conducted at the Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS) facility being constructed in Varennes, Quebec, near Montreal – a world class $21M laser facility that is capable of producing femtosecond pulses of light in a range of wavelengths from the mid-IR to X-ray with peak powers greater than 1014 W.
By Niky Kamran (James McGill Professor, Mathematics and Statistics, McGill).
Dr. Kamran's research focuses on the mathematical analysis of the effect of curvature and singularities on the behavior of the solutions of the equations that govern propagation of waves in space-time, in particular near black holes. More generally, he is interested in the rich interplay between geometry, analysis and partial differential equations.
Read about Dr. Kamran's insights and surprising work with Orthogonal Polynomials in physics.
March 13: Neuroplasticity in the Adult Human Brain
By David J. Ostry (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.
Dr. Ostry's research focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms of voluntary movement and deals equally with speech production and human arm motion. His lab uses mathematical models, robots and behavioral and physiological techniques to assess motor function and the characteristics of motor learning. The overall goals are to understand the interplay of sensory and motor function and most recently, to understand how motor learning and adaptation affects sensory function in speech and limb movement. Dr. Ostry is also a senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut.
By Margaret Kalacska (Geography, McGill)
Dr. Kalacska's main research interests include ecological and forensice applications of remote sensing, HPC hyperspectral data analysis, machine learning (pattern recognition, Bayesian Networks, classification), spatial modeling and tropical ecology.
January 10: Catching your Breath: Hypoxia and Hot Fish in the Face of Global Change
By Lauren Chapman (Professor and Canada Research Chair, Biology, McGill)
For water-breathing organisms like most fishes, dissolved oxygen is one of the most critical factors in their environment, limiting habitat quality, growth, and survival. While low oxygen (hypoxia) occurs naturally in some waters with low light and low mixing (ie. swamps), environmental degradation is dramatically increasing the frequency and severity of hypoxic events, to the point where hypoxia is now considered one of the most serious manifestations of human-induced stress to inland and coastal waters. This talk takes you to equatorial waters of East Africa to focus on this pervasive environmental stressor and its potential interactions with climate change. Dr. Lauren Chapman is a Professor of Biology at McGill University where she holds a Canada Research Chair in Respiratory Ecology and Aquatic Conservation. Her research focuses on problems of environmental stressors in aquatic systems and adaptations of fishes to extreme environments. For over two decades, Dr. Chapman’s program has been is strongly embedded in international research and training in East Africa fostered by strong linkages with the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute and Makerere University of Uganda.
Image: Lauren Chapman in the Lake Victoria region.
Feb. 14: Biological Invasions: The Ecological and Societal Impacts of Non-native Species
By Anthony Ricciardi (Redpath Museum and McGill School of Environment)
Driven by the movement of people and cargo across the planet, thousands of species of plants, animals and microbes are spreading into new regions faster and farther than at any other time in Earth's history. These “biological invasions” can cause extinctions, disrupt ecosystems, alter natural resources, threaten human health, and even pose national security problems. Despite these risks, some ecologists have advocated planned invasions to rescue species threatened by climate change. Termed "assisted colonization", their proposal involves moving potentially large numbers of species to favorable habitats well beyond their native range. This talk will evaluate this controversial strategy and the ecological and societal impacts of invasions worldwide. Dr. Anthony Ricciardi is an associate professor in both the Redpath Museum and the McGill School of Environment, where he teaches courses on animal diversity, environmental science, and the ecology of species invasions. He received his PhD from McGill (in 1997), and was an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow at Université Laval and a Killam Fellow at Dalhousie University. He is an associate editor for the journal Diversity and Distributions and the journal Biological Invasions, and he serves on the scientific committee of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network – a national NSERC-funded research group that assesses the risks of invasion in Canada's lakes, rivers and coastal waters.
March 14: Witnessing the Formation and Evolution of Galaxies
By Tracy Webb (Physics, McGill)
We live in a Universe of remarkable structure. From super-clusters of galaxies, tens of millions of light years across, to grand-design spiral galaxies and small rocky planets like Earth, structure exists on all scales. It wasn't always this way: through the extraordinary advancements of observational cosmology of the last several decades, we now know the Universe was homogeneous at its beginning. While the physics which links the young and smooth Universe to its underlying Dark Matter skeleton is well-established, perhaps paradoxically we know very little about how the objects composed of regular matter - the stuff you and I are made of - assembled. In a general sense, cosmological structure grows hierarchically; small systems collapse first then merge to form progressively more massive objects. But this is a violent and energetic process, triggering bursts of star formation, feeding matter onto super-massive black holes, stripping galaxies of their interstellar medium, and fundamentally shaping the complex structure we see around us today.
Dr. Webb’s research centers on the growth of structure in the universe, and galaxies in particular. Her approach is to use data at many different wavelengths of light; each wavelength probes a different physical process and tells us something unique about galaxy formation. Because a lot of the physics in galaxies happens behind thick veils of dust, she focusses much of her research on submillimeter (~400-1200µm) and mid/far-infrared (~3-400µm) observations, which directly detect the dust and provide clues to what's happening behind it. She primarily studies galaxies in the very distant and young universe (i.e., high-redshift); because of the finite speed of light we are seeing these systems as they existed 5-12 billion years ago and can literally watch them form! However, she is also beginning programs to study near-by galaxies since these systems can be studied in much more detail and will provide insight into the processes which formed the galaxies of today.
April 11: Nature or Nurture: Do genes actually determine your personality?
By Roberta Palmour (Departments of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, McGill)
That behavioural traits are influenced by genes is now well established, and every couple of weeks the popular press reports a new gene for this medical disorder or that behavioural trait. In this presentation we will explore the evidence that personality is heritable, and how specific genes might or might not contribute to the behavioural traits that make up personality, both in humans and in other vertebrate species.
Dr. Palmour has been studying the monkeys in St. Kitts for 25 years in order to try to understand if personality traits are genetically predetermined. She's a professor of psychiatry and human genetics. You can hear an interview about her research insights at CBC All in a weekend last year. PHOTO: Shows Dr. Roberta Palmour and Helilconia in St. Kitt's.
Sept 12: The neuroscience of looking and seeing
By Christopher Pack (Associate Professor, Neurology & Neurosurgery at McGill and a Canada Research Chair in Visual Neurophysiology)
Vision, according to Aristotle, is the ability to know what is where by looking. Indeed we gain a great deal of information about our surroundings by simply opening our eyes; within milliseconds we can recognize faces, places, words, and buildings. But between the moment when the light first reaches the eye and the moment when recognition takes place, some thirty different brain regions have contributed to the extraction of information about the shapes, colors, depths, textures, and velocities of each object in view. The result of all this processing is then relayed to brain regions responsible for retrieving memories, making decisions, and programming actions. How does the brain transform light into conscious visual perception? This lecture will discuss recent (and not so recent) theoretical and empirical work that characterizes how single neurons, organized into dedicated circuits, support our ability to see.
Dr. Pack has been an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and an EJLB Scholar; he recently won the Promising Young Investigator Award from the Montreal Neurological Institute.
PHOTO of Dr. Pack: By Martine Doyon, with permission. This image is part of an exhibit called Neuro Portrait: The Brain Inspires Us.
October 17: Mobile phones and health - how should we respond to public concerns?
By Kenneth R. Foster (Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania) and Lorne Trottier (Co-founder, Matrox Group)
Dr. Foster's research interests relate to biomedical applications of nonionizing radiation from audio through microwave frequency ranges, and health and safety aspects of electromagnetic fields as they interact with the body. For example, he examines the prospects of workers in electrical occupations and the possibility (or lack of) cancer risk. Another and somewhat broader topic of interest is technological risk, and impact of technology (principally, electrotechnologies) on humans. His goal in this area is to examine technology, putting into perspective its relative risks and benefits to society. What he hopes to impart is a better perception of the social use of science.
Lorne Trottier is a co-founder of Matrox, a privately held company known for its innovative products in the domains of computer graphics, video, and imaging. Trottier holds a B. Eng. and M. Eng. degree from McGill University. Trottier was awarded a doctorate degree honoris causa by McGill in 2006, and by l'Université de Montréal on the recommendation of l'École Polytechnique in 2011. He was awarded the Prix Lionel Boulet by the Gouvernement de Quebec in 2003, and was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2007. He is President of the Board of the Montreal Science Center Foundation (Centre iSCi). Mr. Trottier is a member of the Advisory Boards of the Faculties of Science and Engineering of McGill University as well as a Governor Emeritus of the same university.
November 14: Panama's forests and the global carbon cycle
By Catherine Potvin (Trottier Professor, Principal Investigator, Neotropical Ecology Lab, Biology, McGill).
Dr. Catherine Potvin’s lecture will be a journey to Panama where she examines the importance of tropical forests for the global carbon cycle. The presentation will start by setting the context of the international climate regime, followed by an examination of the challenges that scientists face when estimating tropical forest carbon stocks. This will bring her to talk about the people who live in, and from, the tropical forests of Panama.In closing, Dr. Potvin will present initiatives that some Latin American countries have adopted in the forest sector in the context of climate change mitigation and will bring on the table Canada’s contribution to the international efforts to combat climate change. Dr. Potvin has maintained scientific activities in three distinct fields of research: global change biology; biostatistical research, and collaborative field work with Indigenous peoples in Panama - especially the Embera. Her current work focuses on the assessment of tropical forest carbon stocks and on ways to avoid deforestation. In 2012 the Royal Society of Canada awarded the Miroslaw Romanowski Medal to Dr. Potvin for her work in improving the quality of an ecosystem in all aspects - terrestrial, atmospheric and aqueous - brought about by scientific means.