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2013

January 10, 2013: 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, 2013: 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, 2013: 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, 2013: 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, 2013: 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, 2013: 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, 2013: 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.


December 12, 2013: How well have we tested Einstein's Theory of Relativity?

By Guy Moore (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.