Lecture Series

before Fall 2005

2001 and 2002

Sunday, January 21, 2001

New Results in Cosmology

C. Barth Nettlefield, Ph.D., Departments of Physics and Astronomy, U of T

Cosmology - the study of the geometry, content and history of the Universe - has entered an extremely exciting time.  New technologies -- exquisitely sensitive detectors, balloon-borne instruments, enormous ground-based telescopes, and satellites -- have facilitated measurements of the nature of the Universe back in time to very near the Big Bang itself.  From these, we can now answer many of the long-standing questions in cosmology: What is the geometry of the Universe? Approximately how old is the Universe? What is the Universe made of? What might the future of the Universe be?

Joint meeting with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre

Sunday, January 28, 2001

Photonics: Revolutionizing Our Daily Lives

William A. van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., Department of Physics, York University

Photonics refers to the generation and manipulation of light. Several decades of research in this area are starting to produce enormous dividends.  Indeed, the global photonics market is expanding rapidly and is projected to exceed $250 billion this year. This talk gives examples of photonics including nanodevices, optical fibers, ultrafast lasers, biomedical applications, laser cooling and environmental monitoring.  We discuss how these applications are revolutionizing the daily lives of all Canadians.  A fun experience with absolutely no equations is promised!

Sunday, February 4, 2001


Kevin G. Munhall, Ph.D., Departments of Psychology and Otolaryngology, Queen’s University, Kingston

The act of talking is one of our most complex motor activities.  Dozens of muscles and articulators must be rapidly coordinated for each spoken word.  Over the past 100 years a series of inventive experiments have helped improve our understanding of this remarkable human motor skill.  This lecture will survey our current understanding of the bioacoustics of speech production using examples ranging from throat singing to ventriloquism.  The lecture will also demonstrate that visible speech movements play an important role in perception.  It is widely accepted that speech perception is not only an auditory process but can also involve the use of visual information.  For example, speech intelligibility in noisy environments increases if the listener can see the talker’s face. Similarly, individuals who have hearing impairments can augment their residual hearing with lipreading.  These and other examples will be used to show the intricacies of one of our most common behaviours.

Sunday, February 11, 2001

More From Loess:  Battling Soil Erosion in the Loess Plateau of Northern China

Barbara W. Murck, Ph.D., Department of Earth Sciences, U of T

Bare rock, deeply incised ravines, and dry river beds have characterized the landscapes of rural northern China for many decades, where land degradation causes serious environmental and socioeconomic problems.  The region is blanketed by a fine-grained, easily eroded, wind-blown soil called loess, deposited during the last ice age.  To combat soil loss, agroforestry -- the mixed cultivation of trees and crops -- is used in combination with hand-constructed engineering works such as terracing, micro-catchments, and check dams to capture soil-laden runoff and conserve water. These techniques are transforming the landscape on a scale and at a rate that may be unprecedented anywhere in the world. With CIDA’s funding, researchers from the U of T are working with Chinese colleagues to develop computer modeling and data analysis capabilities that will allow soil and water managers to test the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of various management scenarios before they are implemented.

Sunday, February 18, 2001

Facing the Climate Change Challenge in Southern Ontario

Joan Klaassen, M.Sc., Meteorological Service of Canada, Ontario Region, Environment Canada

Climate change has potential significant impacts on the environment.  It threatens to change the natural balance, affecting the availability and quality of future water resources, stressing our ecosystems, impacting on human health and possibly increasing the vulnerability of urban infrastructure.  Recent work has shown that even slight warming of only one or two degrees could result in significant changes to the landscape, as well as biodiversity, in southern Ontario.  Adaptive and mitigative measures will need to be taken in an effort to counteract the effects of climate change and to protect the environment for future generations.

Sunday, February 25, 2001  

Fusion Energy Research: What? Why? When?

David E. Baldwin, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Fusion Group, General Atomics, San Diego, CA

The quest for practical fusion energy -- exploiting the process powering the sun and stars -- has been called the most difficult scientific and technical challenge ever undertaken.  Nonetheless, today, fusion research is conducted by most of the developed world for its combined promise of unlimited fuel supply, inherent safety, and low environmental impact.  The past decade has seen accelerating progress in the understanding and control of the fusion medium.  Researchers are now ready to demonstrate true fusion energy production in ITER, an international facility having this goal, for which a site near Toronto has been proposed.

Sunday, March 4, 2001

Block-wide Termite Control is a Reality

Timothy G. Myles, Ph.D., Faculty of Forestry, U of T

Thirty Ontario municipalities have infestations of the eastern subterranean termite.  Research conducted at the U of T over the past ten years has led to the development of a Block-wide Integrated Termite Management (BITM) System.  The BITM System achieves long-lasting or permanent control and can be implemented at a much lower cost than can the traditional soil termiticide treatments.  Pilot projects have been carried out in three southern Ontario locations with considerable sucess: by the second half of the second year, termites had been suppressed by 92% in the Guelph project, by 99.5% in the Toronto project, and, apparently, eradicated entirely in the Pickering project.  Complete eradication in all three areas is expected by the end of 2001.  Plans for larger scale implementation are under consideration in Toronto where there are an estimated 900 infected blocks.


Sunday, March 11, 2001

Kids’ Science Workshop --  “Ask Pippa” -- Live!

Pippa Wysong, B.A., Science Reporter

“Ask Pippa”, a question and answer science column for kids, has been appearing in the Toronto Star since 1989.  Now, you get to see Pippa in person.  But did you ever wonder where she finds her answers?  Today, Pippa will introduce you to several scientists who will perform experiments and help answer strange questions on everything from bugs to outer space.  

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Reclaiming Dinner:  Enhancing Consumer Confidence in Food

Douglas Powell, Ph.D., Department of Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph

Public awareness of microbial food safety has increased dramatically in the past five years, coupled with new regulatory initiatives to improve the safety of the food supply. Related issues such as foot-and-mouth disease, genetically engineered foods and protracted public debates have further heightened consumer concern and media coverage of agricultural issues from farm to fork. This talk will summarize current trends and use several examples to show how agri-food risk can best be managed to ensure safe food and consumer confidence.

Sunday, October 28, 2001

Life On The Ocean Wave: A Glimpse at the Fascinating World of Seabirds

John W. Chardine, Ph.D., Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada Atlantic Region, Sackville, NB

There are about 10,000 species of birds in existence today, yet only a little over 300 have managed to evolve the necessary adaptations to allow them to exist, indeed thrive, in the world's seas and oceans. Seabirds are  simply birds that spend most of their time at sea, take food from the sea, and only come to land to breed (one species does not come to land to breed -- do you know which one it is?). The challenges involved in making a living at sea include processing salt water, finding and acquiring sufficient food, and staying warm and dry. In modern groups of seabirds, adaptations to these challenges have arisen independently on perhaps three or four occasions: in the penguins, petrels, pelican-like birds, and in the group to which gulls, terns, auks, and others belong. The challenges faced by a life on the ocean waves will be illustrated through vignettes of the lives of a few key seabird species. Seabirds are adversely affected by many human-related activities such as fishing, shipping and offshore oil development, the release of exotic species, and tourism. A crucial role science plays is in providing robust information that can be used to conserve this fascinating and important group of marine organisms.

Sunday, November 4, 2001

Lessons From Death

James G. Young, M.D., Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Safety Division; Chief Coroner for Ontario, Ministry of the Solicitor General

The office of Coroner started in the 12th Century in England, but remains relevant today. Coroners investigate all sudden and unexpected deaths with the goal of answering who, how, when, where and by what means a person died, and also using circumstances and lessons learned from the death to prevent similar deaths in future. This lecture will detail how the Office of the Chief Coroner in Ontario carries out its mandate of investigating the deaths in order to protect the living, using high tech science and inquests.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Mutations, Aging, and Cancer

John A. Heddle, Ph.D., Department of Biology, York University

Mutations: loved by geneticists and hated by parents, both for good reasons. Although important in evolution and genetics, mutations are usually bad news for anyone who inherits one. Unlike the mutations causing birth defects, most of those found in cancers were not inherited but arose in the body of the person. This suggested that they could be influenced by diet, exposure to environmental carcinogens, and age itself. New methods show that this is indeed correct, but there have been some surprises too.

Sunday, November 18, 2001

In Search of Elegance:  the Evolution of the Art of Structural Engineering

Michael P. Collins, Ph.D., P.Eng., Department of Civil Engineering, U of T

Structural engineering can be defined as the art and science of designing and constructing structures with economy and elegance so that they can resist safely the forces to which they may be subjected.  This lecture will discuss the evolution of the art of structural engineering by examining examples of elegant structures from the Pantheon in Rome to the CN Tower.  How structures stand up and why they sometimes fall down will be illustrated.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

Living Life Small: Nanoscale Bioengineering

Christopher M. Yip, Ph.D., P.Eng., Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, and Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, U of T

Nanotechnology, or the ability to create, manipulate, image, and control structures and processes on the atomic scale, is revolutionizing fields ranging from electronics to medicine. While Feynman first explored this idea in 1959 with his talk entitled 'There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom', one might reasonably argue that biological systems represent perhaps the best examples of nano-technology to date. Indeed the concepts of self-assembly and rational control over structure and function fundamentally define the action of biomolecules. Our research focuses on combining these two fields by investigating how we can apply new insights from structural biology to create new molecular materials and supramolecular structures with controllable properties and function. In this talk, we will explore how proteins with unique folding motifs can be used to create two-dimensional nanostructures and how tools such as the scanning probe microscope allow us to now directly visualize these assembly processes.

Sunday, December 2, 2001

For Young People 7 - 97!  Stars, Stories and Wonders of the Winter Sky

Ian McGregor, B.Sc., B.Ed. Astronomy, Department of Education, Royal Ontario Museum

In a dynamic, interactive, and visually exciting presentation, the speaker will introduce you to some of his long-time "star friends" in the sky, showing how to find them, and sharing stories about them as told by peoples around the world from China to Egypt. Modern science also finds among these stars exciting stories that tell of birth, life, and death in the universe. From mighty Orion to the Great Bear and along the band of the Milky Way we discover a night sky filled with mystery, beauty and wonder.

Sunday,January 20, 2002

Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Car: Biodiesel

David G. B. Boocock, Ph.D., Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, U of T

For many years, biodiesel fuel, made from oil seed crops, has been used in European countries. Tax relief and agricultural subsidies were required to make it competitive with petrodiesel. Recently "mad cow" disease has resulted in inexpensive feedstocks in the form of refurbished waste fats and oils, from which biodiesel can be made very economically.  Research leading to a two-step process for the commercial production of biodiesel fuel from refurbished waste fats and oils will be examined.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

How Orangutans See The World

Anne E. Russon, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, York University

Orangutans, one of only four surviving species of great apes, rival chimpanzees in the sophistication of their intellect.  This talk will explore the nature of their intelligence as they use it to solve problems in their tropical rainforest habitat, and consider how they may shed light on the nature and evolution of human intelligence. Research on intelligence may contribute to conservation; a critical concern, given that orangutans are at serious risk of extinction.

Sunday, February 3, 2002

Extrasolar Planetary Systems

Sara Seager, Ph.D., Institute for Advanced Study, School of Natural Sciences, Princeton, NJ

For hundreds of years people have speculated about distant worlds orbiting other stars like our sun. In very recent history, in the past several years, a large number of extrasolar planets have at last been detected. Hence the research field of extrasolar planets has moved quickly from science fiction to frontiers research. Surprisingly, almost all of the known planetary systems are very different from our solar system.  What is known about the eighty or so extrasolar giant planets will be discussed as well searches for Earth-like planets and biological signatures of extraterrestrial life.

Joint session with the Royal Astronomical  Society of Canada, Toronto Centre

Sunday, February 10, 2002

From Meteorites to Megacities: Ontario’s Geological Past

Nick Eyles, Ph.D., D.Sc., Department of Geology, U of T

Most of us live in an artificial environment created by rapid urbanization of landscapes that formed over eons. Urbanization obscures our reliance on the natural resources on which our prosperity and ultimate survival still depends and increases our susceptibility to natural hazards. The speaker will show how geological knowledge is fundamental to meeting the environmental challenges created by an increasingly urban society with regard to issues such as water resources, waste disposal and earthquake risk.

Joint session with the Toronto Field Naturalists

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Sex With Six Legs: How Bugs Get It On

Kenneth  G. Davey, O.C., Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology, York University; President, RCI

The insects, in both number of species and number of individuals, are the most successful group of land animals ever to exist.  Much of this success is the result of their capacity for reproduction.  The presentation will describe how insects have adapted reproduction to life on land, how the sexes get together, and how hormones control reproductive processes. Some hormones are used as novel control agents for insects, but even these chemicals carry some risks.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

Earth’s Changing Climate: Certainties and Uncertainties

Henry N. Pollack, Ph.D., Department of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan

Probably no other scientific topic has been more in the news over the past decade than climate change. Yet there continues to be confusion in the public mind, which arises in part because the level of scientific understanding is not uniform: what can we say about climate change with great confidence, and what aspects are less certain? This lecture will address the reality of recent climate change, examine the likely causes, and explore possible consequences.

Sunday, March 3, 2002

What Do Animals Learn About Sex?

James G. Pfaus, Ph.D., Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology, Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal

Hormone action in the brain sets the stage for sexual activity, but it is each animal's unique experience with sexual behavior and reward that molds the strength of responses toward sexual stimuli. This talk will highlight new studies into the role of learning in sexual behavior, examining its impact on sexual excitement, on courtship and solicitation displays, on arousal and copulatory behaviors, and on sexual partner preferences.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Science Circus

Activities and science fun for everyone, especially kids 7-12.   Hands-on and minds-on activities.  A delightful collection of experiments hosted by students of the University of Toronto and the Let's Talk Science Program.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Transgenic Plants and the Environment -- the GMO Debate Hots Up

Spencer C. H. Barrett, B.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Botany, U of T

Genetically modified crops have burst on the scene in the past five years and have generated an enormous amount of public controversy, with important implications for world trade and the economy. The intensity of the public reaction to GM crops has varied, with several European countries and New Zealand taking an especially hostile stance, a situation in striking contrast to the USA. Today several countries have introduced a moratorium on the commercial planting of GM crops. What is all this fuss about? Are GM crops dangerous and if so why? How should responsible and educated citizens react to the deluge of information and misin­formation about GM crops? Are we to believe Monsanto's propaganda or the scaremongers from Greenpeace? The lecturer will review some of the main issues surrounding the GM debate, focusing particularly on the perceived environmental risks of the widespread adoption of GM crops, including the potential loss of biodiversity and the genesis of so called "super­weeds."

Sunday, October 27, 2002

The Truth About Cinderella

Margo Wilson, Ph.D., and Martin Daly, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, McMaster University

Are stepchildren victims of discriminative mistreatment?  Folklore, metaphor, and evolutionary theory all suggest that they might be, and it turns out that step relationship is indeed the leading risk marker for child abuse and murder.  Even so, violent abuse of stepchildren is not common.  But milder sorts of discrimination are pervasive. The flip side of discrimination against stepchildren is parental love: a profound, individualized commitment that is not easily redirected.  The real puzzle is not why step-relationships are often problematic, but why they usually work out reasonably well.  The distribution of step-parental care in the animal kingdom suggests an answer.

Sunday, November 3, 2002

Waste Not, Want Not: Extracting Value from Wastewater

David M. Bagley, Ph.D., P. Eng., Department of Civil Engineering, U of T

Water is great for transporting wastes out of the home, factory and even off the street.  Before these wastewaters can be returned to the environment, however, they must be treated and the contaminants removed.  This is now routinely (but not universally) done in Canada––at great economic expense.  But wastewaters are not really wastes at all.  They are instead raw materials from which important products, such as energy, nutrients, and water, may be obtained.  This talk will examine ideas and technologies that are being developed to extract value from wastewaters while nevertheless vigilantly protecting the environment and human health.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Climate Change: Where On Earth Are We Going?

Lawrence A. Mysak, C.M., Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University

The very long-term climate regimes during the 4.6 billion year history of the earth will be reviewed. Concepts of "icehouses" and "greenhouses" will be defined and climate variability from the 100,000-year ice age cycles to the shorter centennial fluctuations will be discussed. Climate and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration changes during the last thousand years will be shown along with scenarios of future climate and environmental changes. Finally, an answer to the question asked in the title will be proposed, but there could be surprises!

Sunday, November 17, 2002

The Revolutionary Concept of Continuous Passive Motion of Joints for Preventing Some Forms of Arthritis

Robert B. Salter, C.C., O.Ont., F.R.S.C., M.D., M.S., F.R.S.C. (C), F.A.C.S., University Professor Emeritus, U of T; Professor Emeritus of Orthopaedic Surgery and Senior Scientist Emeritus, The Hospital for Sick Children

In 1970 Dr. Salter originated the biological concept of continuous passive motion (CPM) of joints for the healing and regeneration of joint cartilage.  This lecture covers the history of rest and motion of joints, the reasoning that led to the origination of the concept, the basic research, the research results and clinical applications to patients for the purpose of preventing some forms of arthritis.  The basic research continues and to date has demonstrated the beneficial results in 25 experimental models of diseases and injuries of joints. The concept has been applied to patients with excellent results in 77 countries.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Cosmos Versus Canvas: Tensions Between Art and Science in Astronomy Images

Jayanne English, Ph.D., A.O.C.A., Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manitoba

Bold colour images from telescopes act as extraordinary ambassadors for astronomers because they pique the public's curiosity. But are they snapshots documenting physical reality?  Or are we looking at artistic spacescapes created by digitally manipulating astronomy images? This lecture provides a tour of how original black and white data from the Hubble Space Telescope, for example, are converted into the colour images gracing magazines.  Each image is a battlefield where the attempt by scientists to represent their discoveries all but drowns out the voice of visual literacy. Yet sometimes in this battle, between the cultures of science and visual art, both sides win.

Joint session with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Toronto Centre

Sunday, December 8, 2002

For Young People ages 7 - 12!  Finding Science

Russell Zeid, Ontario Science Centre

Explore the universe:  Experiments, art and fun for 7-12 year olds. A fun-filled hour followed by free refreshments.

Webcasts are not available for lectures prior to the Fall of 2005.

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the RCI’s speakers and topics for those years.