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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 the Faculty of Science (Dean); Faculty of Medical Sciences, and the Centre for Applied Mathematics in Bioscience and Medicine (CAMBAM).

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.

Please help us to continue with the series.

Most of the Cutting Edge Lectures in Science are available on iTunes U and on McGill podcasts. Find them in the section entitled "Science and Technology" .


FALL 2016


Sept. 15: Spies and lies - Cold war science, the CIA, and the case against Ewen Cameron

By Andrea Tone (Canada Research Chair in the Social History of Medicine; Faculty of Medicine, McGill)

This talk revisits the history of the CIA-funded mind control program, MK-ULTRA, which funded the research and patient treatments of Dr. Ewen Cameron, the chair of McGill's psychiatry department, during the Cold War. Drawing on newly available archival materials, oral histories, and other sources, it explores and historicizes MK-ULTRA's' objectives, Cameron's work, and the controversy and legacy both engendered.


Oct. 13, 2016: Chaotic Music and Fractal Art: A Glimpse into the Neurophysiology of Aesthetics

By Leon Glass (Isadore Rosenfeld Chair in Cardiology and Professor of Physiology, Dept. Physiology, McGill)

The enjoyment of music and art are uniquely human experiences.  Yet we still do not understand the attributes that lead us to appreciate some artistic works and not others. In this talk I will address how concepts in mathematics can help us to think about these matters. Chaos refers to irregular time series that are generated following a definite set of deterministic rules. A fractal is an image, in which magnification of a small region is similar to the whole.  I will give examples of how the concepts of chaos and fractals can be exploited to propose simple computer algorithms that can be used to generate sequences of sounds and images. I will also show how random patterns of dots can be manipulated to generate displays that are visually interesting, and that can be used as an input to probe the physiological processes underlying visual perception. The talk will challenge you to think about what you hear and see, and how you do it.


Nov. 10, 2106:  Tiny animals, big stories: the natural history of insects and spiders in Canada’s fragile Arctic

By Chris Buddle (Associate Professor, Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences, Dean of Students, McGill)

Insects and spiders comprise most of the known biodiversity on the planet, including places such as Canada’s Arctic. The small animals of the tundra can act as excellent indicators, and can help us better understand how environmental change is affecting the north. This talk explores the natural history of Arctic insects and spiders, providing case studies that help inform broader questions in biology, learn about effects of changing climates, and help us better the unexplored realms in the north.

Chris Buddle's research is focuses on the biodiversity and community ecology of insects and spiders, notably in northern ecosystems.


Dec. 8, 2016: How Fiction Works - What computers have to tell us about the nature of storytelling

By Andrew Piper (Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar, Director, .txtLAB @ McGill Dept. of Languages, Literatures and Cultures)

This talk will present new research from the burgeoning field of cultural analytics, where the techniques of big data, machine learning and natural language processing are being applied to the study of creative writing. We will learn about a variety of new findings coming out of my lab that address questions such as, Can you predict a prizewinning novel? What makes a bestseller? Does an MFA have an impact on the contemporary novel? And what is the unique nature of fictional writing since the nineteenth century?


WINTER 2017


Jan. 12, 2017: Cosmology

By Robert Brandenberger (Dept. of Physics, McGill).

Cosmology is a natural meeting ground for fundamental theory (e.g. superstring theory or quantum gravity) and observations. This lecture explores how seeds laid down in the very early universe developed into the large scale structure we observe in the universe today.


Feb. 9, 2017: Canada can be the World’s economic superpower in the non-fossil fuel world and Green Chemistry can get us there

By Robin D. Rogers (Dept. of Chemistry, McGill). The worldwide concern of finding alternatives to non-renewable petroleum-based resources has resulted in increased attention to the recovery of biopolymers and other compounds from natural, renewable reserves including from Canada’s trees, grasses, and marine animals. This presentation will consider how innovation, rather than regulation, is the gateway to a sustainable bio-based economy.


Mar. 9, 2017: Forecasting the future, with toads

By David M. Green (Redpath Museum, McGill)

What can a small, sand-dune dwelling amphibian tell us about the biodiversity crisis and global climate change? Plenty. Through long-term study spanning nearly 30 years, the Fowler’s Toads on the north shore of Lake Erie demonstrate how, and why, a species can become endangered, what happens when a population becomes critically small, how animals may respond to a warming climate and the complexities governing animal body size.


April 13, 2017: Playing well together: The science of temporal coordination among performing musicians

By Caroline Palmer (Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience of Performance, Dept. of Psychology, McGill)

This lecture describes recent research conducted with expert and novice musicians which demonstrates the extreme flexibility with which they adapt to each other, under split-second, demanding conditions. These behaviors represent complex examples of auditory perception, temporal expectations, and memory for long sequences that underlie our ability to synchronize our behavior with those of others. Most humans are capable of making music to some degree: clapping to a song, humming or even imagining a familiar melody. These are common behaviors that do not require musical training. This talk will focus on the one question that most puzzles scientists: how do we predict group behaviors, such as performance by a new ensemble of musicians, from what we know about individual (solo) performance?