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January 13, 2011: Environmental change in Canada’s Arctic: how different is the present from the past?

Marianne DouglasBy Dr. Marianne Douglas (Director, Canadian Circumpolar Institute and Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta). Arctic regions are experiencing high degrees of environmental change, including thinning of arctic sea ice, increased deposition of airborne pollutants, as well as evidence of a longer growing season. Watch the podcast.

February 10, 2011: Is there room for ecological conservation in the Oil Sands of Alberta?

Stan Boutin
Dr. Stan Boutin (U. Alberta)
Watch the podcast.
The Oil Sands of Alberta present many environmental challenges. My talk will focus on how terrestrial ecosystems and their components can be conserved in this heavily industrialized landscape. I will begin by outlining the magnitude of current and proposed human activities in the region and show how our perception of scale is fundamental to tackling conservation issues. Management actions can take many forms, from new industrial "best practices" to broad land-use planning involving conservation areas and high-intensity industrial activities but the "effectiveness" of these actions is highly variable.

March 10, 2011: Perfect Model - Prediction, Science and Aesthetics

David Orrell

Dr. David Orrell (Oxford)

Mankind has always wanted to predict the future. We seem to have a genetic urge to see around the corner, to sense what’s coming next. The ancient Greeks built sophisticated models of the cosmos, based on the ideal of perfect circles, that could be used by astrologers. Today we rely on mathematical models to forecast the weather, the spread of diseases, the economy, and much else. Nowhere is predictive ability more important than in science, where it is considered the traditional test of a theory’s success. But despite huge investments in manpower and technology, we still find it hard to anticipate complex systems – as our recent difficulties with climate change, flu pandemics, or the credit crunch have shown.
This talk takes an overview of the history and the challenges of prediction, from the oracle at Delphi, right up to the latest methods being developed in areas such as systems biology and economics — and argues that our search for the “perfect model” often reveals as much about our sense of aesthetics as it does about the future. David Orrell is the author of books including Apollo's Arrow: The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything, and Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets It Wrong.

April 14, 2011: Structure and dynamics of Supramolecular systems one molecule at a time

Gonzalo CosaDr. Gonzalo Cosa  (Assistant Professor, Chemistry, McGill: recently named a co-winner of the European Society for Photobiology’s Young Investigator Award)
 Watch the podcast.
Advances in electronics, optics and nanotechnology have led to a tremendous progress in optical imaging over the past years. In the specific case of fluorescence imaging, the possibility of visualizing single fluorescent molecules with exquisite spatial and temporal resolution gave rise to the field of Single Molecule Spectroscopy (SMS). This technique has provided new paradigms in chemical biology, biochemistry and biophysics by revealing unique information otherwise hidden in ensemble measurements. A major interest in our research activities is to expand SMS methods to study and characterize nanomaterials and supramolecular systems. In this presentation I will describe our recent progress on the single particle imaging of DNA nanotubes of various architectures. I will also discuss our single molecule spectroscopy characterization of liposome beacons, liposomes encapsulating water soluble conjugated polyelectrolytes, with an emphasis on their role in biosensing platforms. In closing, I will also address our single molecule mechanistic enzymatic studies, where we are investigating the molecular structure and dynamics of key protein/nucleic acid complexes that are intermediates in polymerase catalyzed RNA synthesis.

September 15, 2011In Awe of Atoms -- Lego blocks of the world around us

By Mark Sutton (Centre for the Physics of Materials, Physics McGill). This lecture explains how the dynamics of microstructure describes and controls the properties of materials and how x-ray sources, called synchrotrons, produce x-rays which can be used to study these processes. In particular, the lecture talks about the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon and the Advanced Photon Source in Illinois.

October 13, 2011 :  Blood Flow and Cardiovascular Development

By elizabeth [dot] jones [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Elizabeth Jones) (Department of Chemical Engineering, McGill).  Every tissue in the body requires blood flow to bring nutrients to the tissue. For this reason, there is significant therapeutic advantage to controlling when and where new blood vessels develop. If we could induce new blood vessels, we could improve wound healing. In situation likes cancer, inhibiting blood vessels from growing into a tumour could starve the tumour and inhibit its growth. Though we now have significant knowledge about how to induce the formation of very primitive blood vessels, blood vessels also need to mature in order to be functional. Blood vessels do not rely solely on biochemical signals to develop. Almost as soon as a vessel is present, blood will begin flowing in the vessel and this flow creates mechanical forces on the blood vessel that initiate a cascade of events.  In order to understand the role of blood flow, we have been studying embryonic vascular development when the heart first begins to beat.  This lecture will explain the process of vascular development, the physical forces created by blood flow in cardiovascular physiology and the role that these forces play in forming a mature network of blood vessels.

November 10, 2011: Primate conservation: Is the cup half-empty or half-full?

by Colin A.  Chapman (Anthropology Dept and McGill School of the Environment)

Of the nearly 600 species and subspecies of primates living today, approximately half are in danger of going extinct.  In fact, one subspecies in West Africa, Miss Waldron’s red colobus, is likely extinct.  Furthermore, the number of recognized threats to primate survival has increased dramatically over the last decade.  A decade ago, disease was not considered a factor that could threaten primate populations with extinction, while today there are a number of cases of dramatic primate population declines caused by disease and it is considered a vital factor in conservation planning.  Similarly, in the last decade climate change has gone from something largely ignored by many countries to a phenomenon of grave concern.  I will present the current threats to primate populations, consider how perceptions of these threats have changed, and consider if the situation is hopelessly grave (the cup half empty) or is there are reasons for optimism (the cup is half full).

December 8, 2011:  Feeding the world without destroying the planet: What we can learn from the agricultural areas around Montreal

By Elena Bennett (Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment, McGill).  Agricultural landscapes can provide many different ecosystem services, including food, high quality freshwater, opportunities for recreation, and flood control. Yet we often focus narrowly on the production of food, which can unintentionally undermine provision of other key services.  The idea of managing for ecosystem services compels us to consider more than one service and obliges us to consider the interactions and relationships among ecosystem services on the landscape. Yet we don’t know very much about these interactions. Thus, a key goal for science in the coming decade is to improve our understanding of how multiple services are provided across agricultural landscapes. What affects the relative proportions of services? Can trade-offs be reduced or synergies strengthened? We are working with local communities in the Vallée-du-Richelieu MRC (Municipalité Régionale de Comté), a 750 km2 regional governance body involving 13 towns southeast of Montréal to build models that they can use to objectively quantify the effect of today’s resource and land management decisions on the current and future provision of multiple ecosystem services.  Nature podcast from October 6 (http://www.nature.com/nature/podcast/index-2011-10-06.html): see "The Jekyll and Hyde element", and hear about her work on phosphorus. Ecological Society of America (http://www.esa.org/egwash/?p=221): hear about her learning how to communicate with politicians and other decision-makers.