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The Science of Life and Death

What happens to our bodies when we die? How do we live with COVID-19? What goes on in a living brain? Do the dead communicate with the living?

These are some of the questions that will be answered by Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology Paul Offit, mortician Kari Northey, McGill neurologist Dr. Lesley Fellows, and McGill Office for Science and Society Director Joe Schwarcz as they tackle “The Science of Life and Death,” the theme for this year’s on-line Trottier Public Science Symposium. Mark your calendars for 7 PM on October 25 and 26 and get ready for an invigorating look at life here and the hereafter.

Recordings of these talks are now available on our YouTube channel! To view the talks by Kari Northey and Dr. Paul Offit click here, and to view the talks by Dr. Lesley Fellows and Dr. Joe Schwarcz click here!


About the Speakers

Kari Northey | "Dealing with Death”

The life of a mortician is dominated by death. Questions naturally arise about embalming, decomposition of the body and cremation. But inquisitive people are also interested in the various cosmetics and other materials that allow damaged bodies to be made presentable for viewing. Then there are the esoteric queries about nails growing after death, bodies making unusual sounds, or surprisingly, sitting up. Anyone who has spent years in the funeral business has stories galore!

Kari Northey has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mortuary Science and has been a licensed funeral director in Michigan for 19 years. She is well-versed in the sociological and technical aspects of the business. Many people are uncomfortable talking about death and its consequences and Kari is committed to putting them at ease as much as possible with compassionate discussions about the end of life and the treatment of a body after death. Follow Kari Northey on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

Dr. Paul Offit | “Living With COVID-19”

The virus that causes COVID-19 is not going to magically disappear. However, thanks to science that has evolved at an unprecedented speed, we now have the tools that keep death from this menacing microbe at bay. Unfortunately, we are threatened not only by the virus but also by misinformation that promotes "alternative" treatments and questions the validity of vaccines to curb infections. A scientific approach is needed to allow us to live with and not die from the virus that has permeated our life.

Dr. Paul Offit is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and is Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is an advisor to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and frequent commentator on CNN. Dr, Offit is co-inventor of the life-saving rotavirus vaccine and has received numerous awards including the Albert. B. Sabin Gold Medal for his leadership in promoting immunization. Follow Dr. Paul Offit on Twitter

Dr. Lesley Fellows | “Optimizing Brain Health”

Our brains are constantly in action, continuing to develop and change throughout our lifetimes. The brain can be remarkably resilient even in the face of chronic health challenges but does require help through proper management of lifestyle factors such as exercise, avoidance of smoking, and management of conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Addressing social factors such as poverty, inequity, stigmatization, and loneliness are far more important in promoting brain health than vitamin supplements or crossword puzzles. There is a lot that can be done to optimize brain health as the number of days behind us begins to exceed those in front.

Dr. Lesley Fellows is a clinical neurologist and researcher at McGill University and serves as Vice Dean, Academic Affairs, in the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences. She cares for people suffering from dementia and studies how decision-making happens in the brain. Dr. Fellows also leads inter-disciplinary research on brain health in older people living with chronic illnesses, considering the interplay between social and biological factors.

Dr. Joe Schwarcz | “Conversations with the Dead”

“Can you talk to the dead?” Houdini famously asked before answering the question himself. “Yes, you can” he maintained. “The problem, though, is that they don’t talk back.” The possibility of an afterlife has intrigued people since the advent of civilization. Near-death experiences with many people claiming to have similar visions constitute an interesting scientific phenomenon, worthy of exploration. The various attempts to contact the dead through mediums, and the chicanery involved, also merit discussion.

“Dr. Joe,” as he is known to his readers and audiences, is Director of McGill University’s “Office for Science and Society” which has the mission of separating sense from nonsense, fact from myth. With a background in magic, he is particularly disturbed when charlatans use magic to defraud the gullible. This has resulted in an interest in the history of spiritualism and the clever ways that mediums use to convince people that they can communicate with the dearly departed. Follow Dr. Joe on Facebook


The Trottier Foundation is a proud supporter of the McGill Office for Science and Society’s Public Science Symposium and believes it is a vital vehicle to promoting scientific communication and presenting scientific information to a broader audience. Established in 2000 by Lorne Trottier and Louise Rousselle Trottier, The Trottier Family Foundation is a Montreal-based private Canadian charitable foundation whose mission is to provide support to organizations that work towards the advancement of scientific inquiry, the promotion of education, fostering better health, protecting the environment and mitigating climate change. The Foundation believes that science, the environment, health, and education are crucial pillars in building a better world.

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