December 10th, 2009

Freaky Friday: Quilting  

 Dr. Gerda de Vries (Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Alberta)


Making Mathematics with Needle and Thread: Quilts as Mathematical Objects
The connection between textiles and mathematics is intimate but not often explored, possibly because textiles and fiber arts have traditionally been the domain of women while mathematics was viewed as a male endeavour. How times have changed! Today, textiles and mathematics, like art and science, are recognized for their interwoven, complimentary attributes. In this presentation, I will examine the connection between textiles and mathematics, in the context of both traditional and contemporary quilts. In a sense, every quilt is a mathematical object, by virtue of the fact that it has shape and dimension. But some quilts are more mathematical than others, and in very different ways. I will show how mathematical concepts such as symmetry, fractals, and algorithmic design show up in the world of quilting through serendipitous and intentional design. Download podcast.

November 12th, 2009

Dr. Andrew Hendry
Andrew Hendry (Redpath Museum and Department of Biology, McGill University)
Humans, evolution, and the future of biodiversity

Humans are the world’s greatest evolutionary force. We have achieved this dubious distinction through the many ways in which we perturb the environment, thereby altering how selection acts on natural populations. These changes in selection have precipitated evolutionary changes in populations experiencing climate change, trophy hunting, commercial fishing, invasive species, and pollution. In some cases, these evolutionary changes may be important to the persistence of populations facing environmental degradation.

Humans can also alter the process of evolutionary diversification itself – we can enhance diversification by creating new niches for species and we can reverse diversification by blurring the distinction between existing niches. For all of these reasons – and more – evolution will be critical in shaping the future of biodiversity in this increasingly human-dominated world.

October 8th, 2009

Karim Nader
Karim Nader (Psychology, McGill University)

Can we erase memories for therapeutic benefits?
If we could functionally erase a memory to make someone better would that be acceptable? What if the memory was of a trauma that has incapacitated someone for decades? Maybe the memories are of drug addiction? If we could erase these memories shouldn’t we? Why do we need memories if they keep us down?

In a very playful manner, my talk will address some of the science that is at he heart of memory research today. The science suggests that memories can be functionally erased. This science was taken and expanded to the point of fiction in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (suggested viewing for the audience). Download podcast.

September 10th, 2009
Christopher Barrett (Centre for the Physics of Materials and Dept. Chemistry, McGill University)
Mother Nature as a Green Materials Engineer, and what Scientists can learn from her about Self-Assembly

The more time that Scientists and Engineers spend working at the cutting edge of Advanced Materials development, the more impressed many of us become with Mother Nature, and the fantastic solutions she has already provided through millions of years of evolution. Materials like spider silk, sea shell, and bone still represent the current forefront of nano-technology and space-age high-strength composites. Processes like vision and bio-compatibility are equally impressively complex and challenging to understand fully, let alone to copy or improve upon. This talk will describe an emerging new guiding principle for Materials Development at McGill, based on Bio-Mimicry and Self-Assembly as an inspiration and a toolbox. Indeed, there is much that current Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering can learn from History and Biology.
Download podcast here.

April 16th, 2009

Leonard Smith
Dr. Leonard Smith (Centre for the Analysis of Time Series, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Seeing Through Our Models: Coping with an Inconvenient Ignorance in a Changing Climate

March 12th, 2009

Rocky Kolb
Dr. Rocky Kolb
Mysteries of the Dark Universe

Nine-five percent of the universe is missing! Astronomical observations suggest that most of the mass of the universe is in a mysterious form called dark matter and most of the energy in the universe is in an even more mysterious form called dark energy. Dark matter binds together our galaxy and dark energy drives galaxies apart in the cosmic expansion. Unlocking the secrets of dark matter and dark energy will illuminate the nature of space and time and connect the quantum with the cosmos.

January 8th, 2009

Andrew Miall

Dr. Andrew D. Miall (Department of Geology, University of Toronto)
Energy and climate change: Six popular myths that complicate the development of good public policies
Climate change and energy issues are complex, and key points are commonly simplified in order for a speaker or commentator to make a point they regard as important. While this may help with public understanding of complex scientific or economic issues, it can result in distortion or misrepresentation, particularly where an individual has an axe to grind or a political point to make. This lecture will elaborate and clarify the six popular myths abut climate change. Download podcast.