Lecture Series

before Fall 2005

2003 and 2004

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Angiogenesis-dependent Diseases

Judah Folkman, M.D., Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

The idea that tumors are angiogenesis-dependent, i.e., that tumors need to recruit their own private blood supply, was proposed in 1971.  Since then this concept has been proved by experiments from many laboratories.  Also, new molecules have been discovered which regulate angiogenesis in the body.  A new class of drugs has emerged, called angiogenesis inhibitors.  These drugs are currently in clinical trials for patients with advanced cancer. Recently, it has been recognized that other diseases are also angiogenesis-dependent, including arthritis, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, endometriosis, hemangiomas, and the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.  The treatment of these diseases, which occur across a variety of different medical specialties, may be improved in the future by the use of anti-angiogenic therapy.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Arms Races in Evolution of Insect-Plant Relationships

Anurag Agrawal, Ph.D., Department of Botany, U of T

Green plants and the insects that eat them dominate the world's biodiversity.  Although plants are frequently thought of as passive victims to hungry pests, they possess an amazing arsenal of active defenses, from the production of cyanides and thorns to volatiles that attract bodyguards. Through their evolutionary history, plants and insect herbivores have reciprocally adapted mechanisms in a defense: counter-defense fashion resembling an arms race.  The lecture will present detailed natural history of the behaviours, chemicals, and structures involved in the interactions, with a focus on local flora and fauna.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Random Knotting

Stuart G. Whittington, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, U of T

Knots have a practical application in our lives and have been used as decorations for many years.  They are an example of self-entanglement. Long, linear, flexible objects such as string, fishing line, and garden hoses have a tendency to become self-entangled as a result of random processes.  This also occurs at a microscopic level where linear polymer molecules, especially very long molecules like DNA, can be highly self-entangled.  In the case of DNA these entanglements can interfere with cellular processes such as replication and transcription.  Can we understand from a mathematical point of view why these entanglements occur?  What do they look like?  How are they dealt with at the cellular level?

Co-sponsored by the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Red Sky at Night:  The Scientific Basis of Weather Lore

David Phillips, O.C., Senior Climatologist, Environment Canada

Long before weather forecasting became a science and service, sky watching was a daily occurrence.  Outdoors people were seasoned weather forecasters, judging for themselves present and approaching weather. People connected changes in nature with rhythms or patterns of weather.  They recalled what they saw in the form of short sayings, often embodied in rhyme for ease of memory.  Weather proverbs became part of culture and education. Today, people depend on the science and service of modern day meteorologists for their weather prognostications.  Most weather lore is silly and foolish. However, many of these light-hearted rhyming weather ditties are fun to repeat and wonder about.

Sunday, February 9, 2003

Fish that Climb Waterfalls:  Experiments in Development and Evolution

Brian K. Hall, B.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc., Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS

A well known American biologist once said that "evolution is the control of development by ecology."  Darwin thought that embryos would provide the best evidence for evolution. Dr. Hall will discuss examples that show how the evolution of such evolutionary changes as allowing fish to climb waterfalls, chickens to develop teeth, turtles to make shells, or pocket gophers to develop 'hairy' cheek pouches involves modification of embryonic development. The name for the modern version of this old field is Evolutionary Developmental Biology, or evo-devo.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Zoology, U of T

Sunday, February 16, 2003 

Facts, Myths, and Chemophobia: Finding Dioxin in the Environment

Ray Clement, Ph.D., Ontario Ministry of the Environment

Much controversy exists about the dangers of trace amounts of some chemicals.  Some "experts" preach "the sky is falling", while other "experts" of equal calibre are convinced "no problem" exists.  The chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (dioxins) show this better than perhaps any other chemical.  Lab tests show that dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals ever made, and that all of us carry traces of dioxin in our body.   Are we at risk?  How can we even say for sure that dioxin is there, at such tiny amounts as parts per quadrillion?  In this presentation, emphasis will be placed on what dioxin is, where we find it, and how we measure it.  There is no definitive answer to the question "how dangerous is dioxin?", but by understanding some of the myths and facts behind media reports, it is possible to make responsible decisions based on sound science rather than chemophobia.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Alexander Van Humboldt: Mapping the Earth

Joan Steigerwald, Ph.D., Science and Society Program, Humanities, and Environmental Studies, York University

From 1799 to 1804 Alexander von Humboldt made an extraordinary trip through Spanish America, a trip that resulted in a scientific and aesthetic vision of the terrestrial globe. Humboldt carried with him an impressive array of the latest scientific instruments that he used to measure the physical parameters of the environments through which he travelled. He also studied the vegetation and the peoples characteristic to each environment. Upon his return, Humboldt set out his “Views of Nature” in graphs, maps, diagrams, and illustrations as well as written works. This talk will explore how Humboldt used these visual representations as “figural instruments” with which to map the earth.


Sunday, March 2, 2003

Let’s Talk Science (especially for kids ages 7 - 12)

Explore science through hands on experiments.  Make movies that trick the eye, and use water like you have never used water before.  Take home more than just your experiments––take home the experience.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Health Care in the Post-SARS World

Alison McGeer, M.D., F.R.C.P., Director of Infection Control, Mount Sinai Hospital;  Departments of Pathobiology and Laboratory Medicine and Public Health Sciences, U of T

The advent of SARS in the spring of 2003 in Toronto was a powerful reminder that there are risks as well as benefits to seeking medical care. For the first time in a generation, being a patient, and working in or visiting a hospital was identified as a risk for serious illness.  Should this experience fundamentally alter how we organize and deliver medical care?  This lecture will discuss the impact of emerging infections on health care, and how hospitals, physicians, and public health practitioners can respond.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Seeing Can be Deceiving:  How the Brain Creates Movement from Static Images

Hugh R. Wilson, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Biological and Computational Vision, York University

When observers view static patterns, they normally perceive a stationary world. However, there are two dramatic situations in which this is not true. In binocular rivalry, each eye views a different static pattern (e.g. horizontal versus vertical stripes), and the brain defaults to an oscillation in which first one pattern then the other is seen. Second, migraine auras, which affect more than 10% of the Canadian population, cause perception of bright flashing bars that move slowly outward across the visual field. These phenomena will be described, and our current understanding of the neural causes will be discussed.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

Microbial Geoengineering: Acid Mine Drainage

Lesley A. Warren, Ph.D., School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University

When Louis Pasteur said "microbes would have the last word", he was right.  While microbes have long been linked to human health, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of their role in the geochemistry of contaminated environments.  Acid mine drainage (AMD) is a priority water quality issue. Despite the high levels of contamination, microbes flourish in AMD environments; some even drive the processes that cause AMD. However, other AMD microbes work for geochemical good, actively mitigating water contaminant levels.  If we understand how microbes and geochemistry are linked, we can harness this microbial energy to clean up contaminated systems.  This talk will describe how we hunt for these tiny, but powerful geoengineers, using advanced techniques from disciplines as diverse as physics to molecular biology.

Sunday, November 9, 2003

Globalization, Infectious Diseases and the Public’s Health

John Eyles, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Director, McMaster Institute of Environment; Health Professor, School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University

 Globalization by its very nature affects all facets of life in all parts of the world. Much emphasis has been placed on its economic and cultural impacts in both the developed and developing worlds. This talk concentrates on some of the less expected consequences of global change through the mass circulation of people, goods, services and disease vectors. Using such examples as West Nile virus, SARS, and HIV/AIDS, it will chart some of the health and quality of life impacts of globalization.  Through health and disease, it will suggest that our security and way of life may be at risk as governments and other agencies struggle by using increased surveillance, quarantine, and reductions in civil rights to combat these dreaded diseases.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Is Mathematics Made in Heaven, or is it Just a Language Game?

Chandler Davis, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D., Department of Mathematics, U of T; Editor, The Mathematical Intelligencer, and Ian Hacking, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, U of T; Professeur, College de France

People have been trying to prove their points to each other ever since they became capable of disputation (100,000 years ago?).   Mathematical proofs are special in that some people are especially sure they're right.  Mathematicians say their proofs are self-authenticating: they may give objective truth without needing to be checked against anything outside.  How can that be?  Ian Hacking will offer an answer.  Chandler Davis will have grave doubts.  Neither will claim divine inspiration.

Co-sponsored by The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Science

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Supernovae and Neutron Stars: a Short Tour of Extreme Astrophysics

Marten H. van Kerkwijk, Ph.D., Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, U of T

In 1932, Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky suggested that the appearance of bright new stars, or `supernovae', was due to the transformation of a normal star into a neutron star, an at the time hypothetical ultradense object made up of neutrons.  The speaker will describe what is known about the last stages of the lives of massive stars, about supernova explosions, and about neutron stars. He will discuss how observations of neutron stars are being used to test General Relativity, and to learn about conditions and processes which are extreme even by astronomical standards. 

Co-sponsored by Royal Astronomical Society of Canada—Toronto Centre

Sunday, November 30, 2003

It’s Fun, But Is It Science?  An Entertaining Hour for ages 7 - 12

Russell Zeid, Ontario Science Centre

Russell Zeid of the Ontario Science Centre puts the fizz back in physics!  A tour with side excursions of fun science demonstrations. Why do things do what they do?  Discover facts, history and fiction around the physical sciences.  Fun filled hour for kids ages 7-12.  

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Windows Into Life, the Universe and Everything

Tim Richardson, CEO, Richardson Technologies Inc., Bolton, ON

Life.  How does it start?  What is life?  What happens at the end of life as we know it?  The joy of pursuing these questions called for new windows into the worlds at the root of life.  The views seen through these windows calls into question what we know about life, the universe and all around us and everything.  Come and learn about new imaging tools developed to help answer these important questions of science.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

After the Genome: Assembling Human Cells

Tony Pawson, Ph.D., F.R.S., Director of Research, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto

The central dogma of biology tells us that DNA makes RNA, RNA makes proteins, and it is largely the proteins that do all the work. The sequence of the human genome has given us a list of the 30,000 or so proteins that together assemble and organize the cells in the human body. We are only just starting to learn the basic principles that underlie the design of human cells, and the fantastic complexity of living organisms.  At the same time, this emerging post-genomic biology is telling us not only how normal cells work, but what goes wrong in diseases such as cancer, and this is leading to promising new therapies.  Dr. Pawson will discuss what we are learning about the proteins encoded by human genes, and how these proteins function in health and disease.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Banff National Park in Cardiac Arrest: the Need to Defibrillate

Nigel Waltho, Ph.D., Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

The pride and splendor of our National Parks is deeply rooted within each and every one of us.  However, coffee-table books and holiday snapshots mask the reality that our parks are dying a slow death, with the collapse of ecological integrity only years away.  Parks Canada has recognized this ecological decay and is now undertaking concerted efforts to reverse these trends, to rejuvenate the ecological heartbeat, and to restore ecological processes on the verge of collapse.  The results may not be picturesque, but at least the long-term integrity of our parks may be saved.  This presentation explores some of these issues, the science behind them, and the lessons learned.

Sunday, February 8, 2004

Mission: Mars

Marc Garneau, O.C., Astronaut, President of the Canadian Space Agency

A red Maple Leaf on the Red Planet?  How is Canada playing a role in unlocking Mars’s secrets? How can studying the far-away world of Mars help us learn more about our home planet, our solar systems, and possibly even the origins of life itself? Join Marc Garneau, President of the Canadian Space Agency and Canada’s first astronaut, for a multimedia presentation on Canada’s vision for exploring Mars, and how our country is using space science and technology to benefit life on Earth.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Making Antimatter

Eric A. Hessels, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair in Atomic Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, York University

Ordinary matter is composed of atoms that are made up of particles, such as protons, neutrons and electrons. For example, the hydrogen atom consists of one electron orbiting around a single proton. Similarly, antimatter is composed of antiparticles, such as antiprotons, antineutrons and antielectons. (Antielectrons are usually referred to as positrons.)  Only recently have we been able to combine these antiparticles into antiatoms. Specifically, we have caused positrons to orbit around antiprotons to form antihydrogen atoms. The aim of our international collaboration is to suspend these antiatoms in a magnetic field so that we can study them. This talk will discuss the process of making antihydrogen and what we might learn from studying these antimatter atoms.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Snow and Ice Research in Canada’s Far North

Peter A. Taylor, Ph.D., Earth and Space Science and Engineering, York University, and Kathy L. Young, Department of Geography, York University

Snow and ice are significant elements of the Canadian Arctic landscape, playing a critical role in the lives of northern peoples and through their impact on the Arctic climate.  Understanding the occurrence, distribution and melt of these entities is an important focus of current research. Peter Taylor is participating in the 2003/4 CASES (Canadian Arctic Shelf Exchange Study) program, studying issues related to ice and snow. The project is being conducted from the Canadian icebreaker, Amundsen.  Kathy Young will focus on snow distribution and melt in the High Arctic landscape.  Snowmelt is the most important hydrologic event in this environment, releasing water that has been held in storage for about 9 to 10 months within a two to three week time span.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

DNA Computing

Lila Kari, Ph.D., Department of Computer Science, University of Western Ontario, London

Biomolecular or DNA computing is an emerging field at the crossroads of mathematics, computer science and molecular biology.  The main idea is that data can be encoded in DNA strands, and molecular biology tools can be used to perform arithmetic and logic operations. Research into biomolecular computing could lead to new revolutionary ways of computing by using DNA, RNA or other biomolecules. This talk will address two aspects of DNA computing research: the computational power of unicellular organisms and the limits of computation by self-assembly (the process by which objects autonomously come together to form complex structures).

Co-sponsored by the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Let’s Talk Science - Especially For Kids ages 7 - 12

Explore science through hands-on experiments.  Take home more than just your experiments -- take home the experience.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Barcode of Life

Paul Hebert, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Canada Research Chair, Molecular Biodiversity, University of Guelph

We live on a planet populated by million of species, most of which remain unknown despite more than 250 years of scientific effort. Recent advances in genomics are poised to revolutionize our understanding of life’s diversity. Momentum is now growing for an international effort to develop a new approach to the identification of life based on DNA barcodes. This work is based on the premise that sequence diversity in a short, standardized segment of the genome can reliably discriminate species in large assemblages of life. The rise of DNA barcodes will expedite the delivery of identifications and provides hope to those frustrated by the slow progress towards the registration of life’s diversity. The development of a DNA barcode system will also have important implications for the conservation of life and for management of those species with negative impacts on human health or economic systems.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Origin and Evolution of Galaxies

Roberto Abraham, D. Phil., Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, U of T

Our understanding of how galaxies form from the detritus of the Big Bang, and how they subsequently evolve, has been transformed over the past few years. As the result of technical advances, we are now able to study the appearance of galaxies 90% of the way across the observable Universe. As we do so, we also look back in time to see galaxies as they appeared soon after the creation of the Universe. Included will be a status report from the front lines of observational astronomy, focusing on efforts to use space-based telescopes (such as the Hubble Space Telescope) and the new generation of ground-based telescopes (such as Gemini) to understand the origin of galaxies, and, indirectly, of ourselves.

Co-sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society, Toronto Centre

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Let There Be Light: The Canadian Light Source (CLS)

G. Michael Bancroft, Ph.D., Sc.D., F.R.S.C., O.C., Senior Consultant to Director, Canadian Light Source (CLS)

After five years of construction and development, the Canadian Light Source (the largest scientific facility in Canada in the last 30 years) is now producing very intense beams of synchrotron light (SL) in Saskatoon.  These SL beams contain the upper two thirds of the electromagnetic spectrum (far infrared, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, soft x-rays and hard x-rays).  The SL beams are especially useful for extremely detailed analysis of materials and environmental samples, greatly enhanced medical imaging and radiation therapy, and determining the atomic structure of proteins.  This facility will dramatically enhance research capabilities in Canada in the physical, medical and engineering sciences in the next 20 years.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

The Mathematics of Glider Racing

Robert Almgren, Ph.D., M.S., B.S., Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, U of T, and Agnes Tourin, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics and Statistics, McMaster University

In the sport of soaring, pilots use the natural convection of the atmosphere to make unpowered flights of hundreds of kilometers. As with other outdoor sports such as sailboat racing, success depends on the participant's skill at managing the risk and uncertainty coming from lack of knowledge of the conditions to be found ahead and in the future. The mathematical technique of stochastic optimal control provides a framework in which to describe and solve problems of this nature. Through illustrations of the sport they will show how varying levels of knowledge about the future can be modeled, and apply the mathematical solutions to real practice.

Co-sponsored by the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Promise of Regenerative Medicine: Fantasy or Reality?

Molly S. Shoichet, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry; Department of Chemistry, Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, U of T

Imagine a world where there is no donor organ shortage, where victims of spinal cord injuries can walk and weakened hearts are replaced.  This is the promise of a regenerative medicine; to address the donor organ shortage by creating an unlimited supply of vital organs for the purpose of transplantation.  For spinal cord injury repair, we are investigating two innovative strategies:  (1) For the compressed (or crushed) spinal cord, an injury endured by Christopher Reeve and Rick Hansen, we are investigating a minimally invasive, localized drug delivery strategy.  (2) For the transected (or severed) spinal cord, an injury endured by Barbara Turnbull, we are investigating a nerve guidance channel strategy.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution, Solving Mankind’s Problems

David T. Dennis, B.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S.C., President and C.E.O., Performance Plants, Kingston, ON and Saskatoon, SK

During the 20th century, world population increased from two to six billion, and yet fewer people starved in 2000 than in 1900.  Major increases in yields per acre resulted from advances in plant breeding and the Green Revolution. However, 542 million people are still malnourished and millions die of starvation.  Worldwide, most agricultural land is cultivated and there is a loss of habitats and wetlands. There is an excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, world population will increase by another two billion by 2030. To address these problems, another revolution is needed. This will be the Gene Revolution.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Especially for Kids ages 7 - 12

Russell Zeid, Ontario Science Centre

Drop it, throw it, catch it, spin it, roll it. Our world is full of events, some we may understand others are just a mystery and others are just plain fun.  Russell Zeid of the Ontario Science Centre will bring his sense of fun and play into understanding some of these events in our physical world.  Gravity may bring you down and magnets may repel you and inertia may carry you along for the ride, but the understanding is the fun part.

RCI Home Pagehttp://royalcanadianinstitute.orghttp://royalcanadianinstitute.orgshapeimage_5_link_0

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

You can click on the appropriate years at left to see

the RCI’s speakers and topics for those years.