Lectures For Fall 2005

and Winter 2006

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Dance of Molecules: Nanotechnology is Choreography

Ted Sargent, B.Sc., Ph.D., Visiting Professor of Nanotechnology and Photonics at MIT; Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology, U of T

Nanotechnologists design and build matter to specifications derived from human needs.  Nanotechnology is coordinated movement, a choreographed dance among atoms and molecules to achieve a desired effect.  It harmonizes within Nature's own set of rules to coax matter to assemble into new forms.  The resulting materials exhibit striking beauty when viewed in an electron or optical microscope, often even with the naked eye.  Their purpose: to produce breakthroughs in medicine, energy and information.  Nanotechnologists are working to transform the way illnesses such as cancer are diagnosed, striving to see disease when it's one cell, not a billion.  Each day, the sun bathes the earth in ten thousand times more energy than we need; we are working to capture even the small fraction that could let us meet our energy needs cleanly and sustainably.  We are working towards a light-based Internet 100 times faster than today's.  I will illustrate some scientific principles and possibilities at the molecular scale; will describe how nanotechnology is already improving our lives; and will ask what it could do for us next.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Search for Accessible Adult Stem Cells

Freda Miller, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Senior Researcher, Hospital for Sick Children, Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, U of T www.stemcellnetwork.ca

Stem cells hold out great promise for medical science, with their potential uses ranging from discovery research to diagnostics to cell therapy.  However, many of the current human stem cell sources derive from embryos, raising a number of ethical concerns.  This lecture will focus on our work over the past 5 years identifying and characterizing an adult stem cell from rodent and human skin.  Our progress in asking the "what, where and why" of adult stem cells will be described, as well as our ongoing efforts to take these accessible adult stem cells from the bench to the clinic.  

Sunday, October 30, 2005

New Worlds in the Making: Origins of Planets and Brown Dwarfs

Ray Jayawardhana, B.S., Ph.D., Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

Until recently, we knew of only one planetary system, our own.  During the past decade, astronomers have detected nearly 150 planets around other Sun-like stars, ending centuries of speculation.  Over the same period, they have also discovered hundreds more of so called "brown dwarfs", which are too puny to light up as stars but which do not fit the traditional definition of planets either. Intriguingly, some brown dwarfs themselves may harbour planetary companions around them.  The apparent ubiquity of both planets and brown dwarfs poses the question of their origins.  I will report on how astronomers are deciphering the birth and early evolution of planets and brown dwarfs using a combination of remarkable new observations and sophisticated computer simulations.

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

Further reading:

Star Factories: The Birth of Stars and Planets by Ray Jayawardhana (Steck-Vaughn, 2000)

"Unraveling Brown Dwarf Origins" Ray Jayawardhana in Science, vol, 303, p. 322 (2004  January 16 issue)

"Planets in Production: Making New Worlds" Ray Jayawardhana in Sky & Telescope, vol. 205, no. 4, p. 36  (2003 April issue)

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Avian Influenza: Not Just For The Birds!

Andrew E. Simor, M.D., F.R.C.P.C., Sunnybrook Women’s College Health Sciences Centre, U of T

Each year influenza viruses cause widespread infection, affecting tens of thousands of Canadians.  However, every few decades the virus undergoes genetic changes that result in the emergence of a new and more virulent strain that causes a pandemic, a global outbreak of disease.  The last major influenza pandemic occurred in 1968.  World health authorities recognize that we are overdue for another pandemic to occur, and strains of avian influenza ("bird flu" virus) are thought to be the most likely candidates  This presentation will review the risk of avian influenza becoming the next pandemic, and will consider public health planning to meet this challenge 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 13, 2005

The Human Genome, Industry, and the Public Good

Aled Edwards, M.Sc., Ph.D., Structural Genomics Consortium, Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, U of T aled.edwards@utoronto.ca   www.thesgc.com

Perhaps the most significant achievement of biomedical research in the 20th century was the sequencing of the human genome.  The race to discover the sequences of all our genes was a tie between the public and private sectors.  Now scientists around the globe are racing to find out what our genes do and how this information can be used to prevent and treat disease.  Again, there is concern about this information, which is even more useful, being tied up in the private sector.  To address this concern, governments and foundations around the globe are launching international consortia with the aim of placing all the information about our genes and proteins in the public domain, without restriction on use.  The Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), which is directed by Dr. Edwards, is one such effort. The talk will discuss the inherent conflict between the aims of public and private sectors and ways in which the two sectors can best collaborate to advance human health.

Sunday, November 20, 2005  

From Soap Bubbles To Crystal Growth

Jean E. Taylor, Ph.D., Visitor, Courant Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, NYU; Professor of Mathematics Emerita, Rutgers University

Creating a mathematical model for soap bubble clusters required the development of a new subject, Geometric Measure Theory, in the 1960s and 70s.  The internal structure of metals, ceramics, and other materials is related to soap bubble clusters, but has many more features.  Current research involves shrinking, slipping, sliding, and rotating crystals.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Infinity: The Most Fascinating of All Ideas

Miroslav Lovric, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics and Statistics, McMaster University

lovric@mcmaster.ca  www.math.mcmaster.ca/lovric.htm

Infinity has many faces.  Sometimes, we perceive it as a "number" larger than all numbers.  For indigenous people of Australia and New Guinea, infinity begins at seven.  Infinity for Van Gogh was a vast, unending plane, on which imagination is given free rein.  For the Moors, creators of exquisite mosaics and patterns whose sophistication has never been surpassed, infinity was a repetition of a single artistic motif.  This lecture will sketch a cultural history of infinity, spanning thousands of years including the amazingly straightforward concepts developed by mathematician Georg Cantor, that form the basis of our modern understanding of infinity.  Cantor had the courage to look infinity in its eyes, and what he saw deeply shocked him.  "I see it, but I do not believe it," he exclaimed as his discoveries shook mathematics to its core.  Cantor died in a mental institution.  What drove him to insanity?  Does infinity really exist?  If so, where can we find it?  Is our universe large enough to encompass infinity? 

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

Further reading:


The Mystery of the Aleph, Washington Square Press, 2000, ISBN 0-7434-3399-6, Oxford University Press 1987, ISBN 0-19-283202-6

Clifford Pickover, Keys to Infinity, John Wiley and Sons, 1995, 1SBN 0-171-11857-5


Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Benefit of Time Travel:  DNA From Fossils

Hendrik Polnar, B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Departments of Anthropology and Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~adna

Most animals that once lived have gone extinct.  A few of their remains can be found in museum collections or, more excitingly, buried in deep permafrost or cave sediments.  DNA from extinct humans (Neanderthals) and animals (mammoths, ground sloths) could add significant insight into their origins, relatedness, population history and deaths, and truly allow the evolutionary biologist to travel back in time.  With the advent of state-of-the-art technology, popularized in shows such as CSI, geneticists can isolate small snippets of DNA from these fossils and piece together genome size bits of information to address fascinating questions, such as whether Neanderthals and humans interbred.


Sunday, February 5, 2006

Groundwater Contamination and Remediation: Myths and Realities

Elizabeth A. Edwards, Ph.D., P.Eng., Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, U of T


Groundwater contamination is a serious threat to global health and prosperity.   Chlorinated solvents are among the most common groundwater contaminants.  Owing to their toxicity, even small spills usually render groundwater unsuitable for use, and cleanup is typically a costly and long-term undertaking.   Bioremediation can be low cost and effective, but must be deployed scientifically.  Recently, a fascinating group of subsurface microorganisms, called Dehalococcoides, has been discovered that can dechlorinate the common solvents tetra-chloroethene and trichloroethene to the benign product ethene.   Remarkably, these organisms obtain energy for growth from dechlorination.  The intriguing microbial physiology of Dehalococcoides will be described, with emphasis on how this physiology is critical for the success of chlorinated solvent bioremediation.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The MOST Space Telescope: Big Science on a Small Platform

Robert E. Zee, Ph.D., Managing Director, Space Flight Laboratory, Institute for Aerospace Studies, U of T


The MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars) space telescope, a 53-kilogram "microsatellite" was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia on June 30, 2003.   Canada's first homebuilt science satellite in over 30 years has been exceeding performance requirements for more than two years in orbit.   MOST is an astronomical science mission designed to measure brightness variations as small as a few parts per million in bright nearby stars.   From this information, the origins and evolution of our universe can be better understood.   To construct the MOST satellite, a number of engineering innovations have been incorporated, including an attitude control system with unprecedented pointing capability for a satellite under 100 kilograms.   The design of MOST will be discussed as well as software changes made after launch to improve mission performance beyond original requirements and some ground-breaking scientific data that has been collected to date.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Know Your Genes: DNA Diagnostics For Everyone

Ulrich J. Krull, Ph.D., Department of Analytical Chemistry and AstraZenca Chair in Biotechnology, U of T at Mississauga



A revolution in diagnostic technologies is taking shape, as new technologies make it possible to create entire laboratories on structures that look like computer chips.  Micro-scale fluidics and nano-scale mechanical devices are now being combined with new chemistries based on selective binding of DNA to produce portable and low-cost diagnostic devices.  This presentation will explore how these technologies function, and what technologies are anticipated soon to be available commercially.  It is now possible to contemplate the availability of diagnostics at work or home for targets as diverse as bacterial, viral and fungal infections, detection of genetically modified foods, and genetic predisposition to disease.

Further reading:

Rapid detection of single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with spinal muscular atrophy by use of a reusable fibre-optic biosensor, Nucleic Acids Research Volume: 32, Issue: 2, January 15, 2004, pp. e18-e18 Watterson, James H.; Raha, Sandeep;Kotoris, Christopher C.; Wust, Christopher C.; Gharabaghi, Farhad; et. al.


Electrokinetically Based Approach for Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism Discrimination Using a Microfluidic Device, Analytical Chemistry Volume: 77, Issue: 13, July 01, 2005, pp. 4000-4007 Erickson, David; Liu, Xuezhu; Venditti, Roberto; Li, Dongqing; Krull, Ulrich J.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Making the Molecular Movie: The Great Thought Experiment Becomes Reality

R. J. Dwayne Miller, B.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Departments of Chemistry and Physics; Director, Institute for Optical Sciences, U of T

Imagine how DNA unwinds for gene expression or how atoms move during the breaking of a chemical bond.  If you found yourself picturing the motion of atoms relative to one another, you have just conducted the classic thought experiment referred to as making the molecular movie.  Directly observing how atoms move in real time during reactions, biological functions, or any structural change in the state of matter has long thought to be strictly a mental construct that could never be realized in the laboratory.  To make such a movie, one would need a new type of camera with a shutter speed of 100 femtoseconds or 1/10th of a millionth of a millionth of a second. Such a camera has been developed at the University of Toronto using short electron pulses for lighting up atomic motions that represent the brightest electron source yet developed for observing atomic motions.  This talk will discuss the science and technology behind the camera, applications to chemistry, biology and physics, and show the first  atomic-level documentary of one of the simplest everyday occurrences, melting at the atomic level. 

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Malignant Angels: Reflections on Homicidal Youth

Clive Chamberlain, M.D., F.R.C.P.C., Staff Psychiatrist, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; Department of Psychiatry, U of T

The media seem filled with accounts of youth violence and perceptions of youth offender stereotypes.  The speaker, who has worked clinically with adolescents for 40 years, reflects on his experience with almost 100 homicidal young people seen over this period in Ontario.  One surprise has been the relatively large proportion of this group with no history of violent behaviour.  These youth tend to be neither aggressive nor impulsive and are often overidentified with authority and control.  Implications for remedial measures and public policy are discussed.