Lecture Series

before Fall 2005

1997 and 1998

Sunday, January 26, 1997

The BAAS Meeting in Toronto in 1897: Science Then and Now

Desmond Collins, Ph.D., Curator, Department of Palaeobiology, Royal Ontario Museum, Department of Zoology, U of T

In August, 1897, the RCI hosted the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's premier scientific society. This was perhaps the most important scientific event ever hosted by the RCI. However, the excursions in eastern and western Canada that preceded and followed the meeting have had an even greater significance for science. Some of the world's top scientists, including Lord Kelvin, participated in these excursions. This lecture will discuss the impact of discoveries stemming from the expeditions, especially as relating to our knowledge of early life on Earth.

Sunday, February 2, 1997

Our Immune System: Friend or Foe?

Tak W. Mak, Ph.D., D.Sc., F.R.S.C., F.R.S., Senior Staff Scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute/Princess Margaret Hospital, Departments of Biophysics and Immunology, U of T

Our immune system has evolved to reject and eliminate pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Although the immune system usually succeeds in its task, it fails to control certain pathogen infections (e.g., HIV, hepatitis virus, and drug resistant bacteria). Paradoxically, in trying to protect us from these pathogens, our immune system sometimes turns on our own body tissues, creating various forms of autoimmune diseases. To attack only pathogens and spare our own tissues, our immune cells must recognize and distinguish self (our tissue) and non-self (pathogens and cancer cells). This lecture will discuss recent scientific discoveries that have allowed us to understand the molecular basis of this immune recognition as well as the mechanisms to control these immune reactions.

Sunday, February 9, 1997

Science Event For Young People (ages 3 - 93)

George Vanderkuur, B.Sc., Science Consultant, Toronto Board of Education

Fun with physics! The science behind colourful bubbles, giant smoke rings, singing flames, light and other everyday things. A potpourri of demonstrations and simple ideas for projects and activities you can do at home. Lots of audience participation. Free admission. Everyone is welcome to attend this fun filled mid-winter event. Refreshments will follow.
Note: the originally scheduled lecture (Laurence Krauss, The Physics of Startrek) was cancelled

Sunday, February 16, 1997

Bats Can See  With Their Ears!

M. Brock Fenton, Ph.D., Associate Vice President (Research and Faculties), York University

In 1790, the Italian scientist L. Spallazani concluded that bats could "see with their ears", setting the stage for one of the most exciting discoveries in animal behavior. By 1945, the American zoologist D.R. Griffin had coined the term "echolocation" and solved what had been known as Spallanzani's bat problem. Griffin demonstrated how bats used echoes of sound they produced to locate objects in their path, and today we know that echolocation is practised by some bats, birds, shrews and toothed whales. In design, bat faces are well suited to reflect and detect echolocation calls. Some bats use echolocation to detect and track flying insects, and some insects use bats' echolocation calls to detect and avoid hunting bats. But what role does echolocation play in the lives of fruit-, nectar-, and blood-feeding bats? And how do bats deal with situations where information from vision and echolocation conflict?

Sunday, February 23, 1997

Kimberlites and Their Diamonds, From Kimberley to Canada

Daniel j. Schulze, Ph.D., Department of Geology, Erindale College, U of T

Although diamonds have been known, and mined, for over two thousand years, the origin of these gems remains poorly understood. Most gem diamonds are thought to be billions of years old. Chemical compositions of some may indicate origins related to the formation of earth, whereas others have carbon signatures similar to younger organic material. Can both hypotheses be right? Does either explain why diamonds occur only at depths beneath ancient continental shields? Other problems exist in finding the diamond host rock, kimberlite, that typically occurs as small isolated bodies. Present day diamond exploration employs both old methods, such as searching for diamond "indicator minerals" in streams, and modern geophysical tools, including aeromagnetic mapping. This combined approach has uncovered some of the world's richest deposits, such as those recently found in the Northwest Territories.

Sunday, March 2, 1997 

The New Science of Photonics: Technology for the 21st Century

Sajeev John, Ph.D., Department of Physics, U of T

The 20th century may be regarded as the age of electronics because of the revolutionary developments in semiconductor physics and the invention of the transistor. However, with the development of the semiconductor laser, technology has shifted from electronics to photonics. Many physicists believe that the 21st century will be the age of photonics, in which beams of laser light replace electrical currents as the medium for information processing and transmission. The effects of this shift already can be found in the telecommunications industry. This lecture describes recent advances in our understanding of the interaction of photons with matter. One striking example is the development of photonic band gap materials. These novel materials may play a role analogous to the semiconductor in the new science of photonics. Applications to telecommunications, computing, and medicine will be presented.

Sunday, March 9, 1997

Insect Music: The Purpose of Pitch in Crickets and Katydids

Glenn K. Morris, B.S.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., Department of Zoology, Erindale College, U of T

Katydids and their cricket relatives use sounds to attract mates. Recently, a katydid species was found in a Colombian rainforest calling at a pitch six times higher than the highest frequency audible to humans. Some other tropical species, and one from Canada's boreal forest, also use ultrasonic sounds. Why are these sound signals pitched so high? And why is it critical that the chirping of all the world's crickets be musical? This lecture explains how insects make and hear their calls, and why the frequency of their calls has been important in the course of evolution.


Sunday, March 16, 1997

Tibetan Medicinal Plants

Michael K. Denk, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, U of T

After decades of pharmacological research, most lead structures for new medicinal drugs still are obtained from natural products. This fact has led to renewed interest (and investments) by pharmaceutical companies in the field of natural product chemistry. Tibetan medicine has a written tradition of 2000 years, but has received little attention. This lecture will discuss the ethno-medical approach in drug discovery, the specific peculiarities of traditional Tibetan medicine as compared to Indian and Chinese traditions, and the results of a Himalayan expedition undertaken in the summer of 1992. 

Sunday, October 26, 1997

Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Disease: A Global Problem On Our Doorstep

Jay S. Keystone, M.D., F.R.C.P. (C.), M.Sc., Centre for Travel and Tropical Medicine, U of T

In 1969, the Surgeon General of the United States declared that the battle against infectious disease was over. Since then, antibiotic resistance has reached epidemic proportions in North America, newly recognized viruses such as Hanta and HIV have spread relentlessly, and the re-emergence of old foes such as tuberculosis, cholera, malaria and dengue fever have led to the deaths of millions. Antibiotic misuse, political instability, overcrowding, changes in human behaviour and global warming have contributed to the worldwide problem of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. Is it too late to win the war? An old friend, immunization, may buy us some time.

Sunday, November 2, 1997

STS-85: Discovery ‘97

Bjarni Tryggvason, Canadian Astronaut aboard Discovery from August 7-19, 1997, Payload Specialist

The speaker's primary role was to confirm the capabilities of the Canadian-made Microgravity Vibration-Isolation Mount (MIM). Orbiting the earth with his five fellow astronauts at speeds in excess of 27,000 km/h, his experiments in the microgravity environment of space travel may lead to a variety of new products and technologies. He also performed experiments designed by Canadian students. Canada's significant contributions in a number of other critical functions will be discussed.

Sunday, November 9, 1997

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory: A Tool To Understand Our Universe

Hugh C. Evans, Ph.D., Department of Physics, Queen’s University

Neutrinos are the most abundant fundamental particles in the universe and the least well understood. For example, we do not know if neutrinos have any mass, an uncertainty important for estimating the missing matter in the universe. Produced by fusion reactions in the sun, and reacting weakly with matter, neutrinos escape largely unimpeded from the solar interior. However, solar neutrino experiments indicate a flux of at most one half that predicted by the best solar models. The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, presently nearing completion two kilometres underground in INCO's Creighton Mine, will detect neutrinos through their reaction with 1000 tonnes of heavy water. The unique properties of this reaction are expected to indicate whether the problem lies in a deficiency in the solar model, or whether the neutrinos change in some way so that they were not detected in previous experiments. The latter would require a finite rest mass for the neutrino.

Sunday, November 16, 1997

Managing the World’s Oceans: Fantasy Or Necessity?

Paul H. LeBlond, F.R.S.C., Member, Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, President, COFRI Foundation

The idea that the ocean, still a vast and poorly explored realm, should be subject to human management seems at first absurd and conceited. However, human activities already influence crucial aspects of the atmosphere, which is closely linked to the sea, and traces of human activity are detectable in the remotest parts of the ocean. Fisheries regulations and pollution control laws are already in place to manage specific aspects of the sea. The world ocean is a crucial component of the biosphere, regulating climate and harbouring a rich ecosystem. Is it becoming polluted? Must we fear its "death"? How can science and policy join hands in preserving the health of the sea? These issues will be discussed from a perspective that recognizes mankind as an important geo-active force, while insisting on the importance of both knowledge and ignorance in management actions.

Sunday, November 23, 1997

Biosensor Technology in Pathogen Detection, Clinical Diagnosis and Drug Discovery

Michael Thompson, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, U of T

Incredible levels of genetic information are being obtained from the Human Genome Project, which aims to completely sequence the genome by the first decade of the new millennium. Detection of genetic mutations at the molecular level opens up the possibility of performing diagnoses even before symptoms of a disease appear. Analogous gene signalling can be effected for characterizing bacteria and viruses. The development of novel therapeutics based on the regulation of gene expression provides revolutionary new opportunities in pharmaceutical science. What are the new developments in the application of biosensor technology in signalling molecular DNA chemistry? Example from the detection of bacteria to the study of HIV-1 RNA will be discussed.

Sunday, November 30, 1997

From Frogs’ Eggs to Flames: Making Chemical Waves

Raymond Kapral, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, U of T

Bone marrow transplantation has been performed in patients with various acquired and heritable diseases. Among the former are leukemias and aplastic anemia; among the latter are thalassemia and immune deficiencies. But media accounts of such patients seldom provide details about the procedure itself. Why can marrow transplantation be a useful treatment? Just how is it performed? Who can be a donor? What does being a donor involve? Why is the search for a donor sometimes so wide ranging? How successful is this treatment? What complications may occur? How does one decide whether or not a potential donor and recipient are a match?

Sunday, December 7, 1997

Children’s Science Workshop

George Vanderkuur, B. Sc., Science Consultant, Toronto Board of Education; President, RCI

A fun-filled hour for young people from age 7 to 97.  Demonstrations, audience participation, and ideas for things to try at home.  Hear flames make music, see a crazy cantilever, and put a penny into orbit!  Refreshments will follow.

Sunday, January 25, 1998

Life Below 0˚ Celsius: How To Freeze Without Really Dying

Kenneth B. Storey, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Biochemistry, Carleton University

Although a popular device of science fiction writers, successful revival of humans or human organs after cryogenic suspension remains well outside the capabilities of modern medical science. But for many animals, freezing is a normal part of winter life. Hundreds of insect species have mastered the tricks of freezing survival. Several Canadian frog and turtle species spend the winter frozen solid with no detectable vital signs. Our studies are revealing the marvelous biochemical adaptations that allow seemingly lifeless frogsicles to melt and hop away!

Sunday, February 1, 1998

A Universe of Colour

David Malin, Anglo-Australian Observatory, Sydney, Australia

The night sky has intrigued mankind for centuries, but it has always appeared strangely colourless to the eye, even with a large telescope. Now, modern imaging techniques reveal that the stars, nebulae, and galaxies of the night display many vivid hues. These colours tell us of the origin and destiny of the stars, a vast cosmic cycle that includes the warming sun and the earth beneath our feet. In this profusely illustrated talk, we will learn how the true colours of some of the most spectacular objects in the universe are revealed, and what those colours mean.

Joint meeting with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Sunday, February 8, 1998

Beyond the Plate Tectonics Revolution: Toward a Unified Theory of Global Geophysics?

Jerry X. Mitrovica, Ph. D., Department of Physics, U of T; Associate, CIAR Earth Systems Evolution Program

The theory of plate tectonics represents one of the major milestones of 20th century science, and Canadian contributions to the new paradigm should be a source of immense national pride. The theory is now well established, and the basic elements, assembled in the 1960s, have succeeded in reconciling widely disparate geological data. Plate tectonics is, however, not a complete model for the dynamics of our planet, because it mainly involves a description of processes evident at the surface. Recent efforts in global geophysics have focused on extending the theory by clarifying details of the internal driving force for plate motions and developing a unified view of the Earth's coupled, dynamic, subsystems. This "Earth Systems" approach has revealed remarkable connections between plate tectonics and heretofore unexplained variations in climate, sea level, and earth rotation.

Sunday, February 15, 1998

Turning Sows’ Ears Into Silk Organs

Michael V. Sefton, Sc.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, U of T

Imagine a world where transplant patients do not wait for a donor, or a world where burn victims leave the hospital without disfiguring scars. Imagine implant materials that can sense their surroundings and respond in an appropriate fashion and provide the basis for regeneration. Our goal is to engineer specific healing responses in the body by Tissue Engineering. This involves the development of a new generation of materials capable of specified interactions with biological cells and tissues to yield functional equivalents. We are literally converting pig cells into transplantable tissues and organs.

Sunday, February 22, 1998

Quark: The Big and the Small of It.  Poking The Building Blocks of Matter

Melissa Franklin, Ph.D., Department of Physics, Harvard University

Quarks are considered the fundamental particles of the universe. The discovery of the top quark at an accelerator outside Chicago and the results of two experiments will be discussed. The first experiment measured how small quarks are. The second experiment used proton-antiproton collisions at the centre of mass energy to produce and detect the last, fast and massive top quark, which is 170 times heavier than the proton. The speaker will discuss why The New York Times does not always have the right spin on data.

Sunday, March 1, 1998

Music Listening in Infancy

Sandra E. Trehub, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, U of T

The study of music perception in infancy offers a unique opportunity for examining skills that are relatively unaffected by experience. In other words, it allows us to separate possible contributions of nature (our auditory system) from those of nurture (exposure and training). Years of research on this question have revealed that music listening skills are surprisingly similar in infants and adults.  For example, after listening to a melody a few times, six-month-old infants notice changes in pitch and rhythmic patterning that adults tend to notice, and infants fail to notice changes that tend to go unnoticed by adults. Moreover, the musical features that are most memorable to infants can be found in musical systems the world over. Thus, six-month-olds are pointing the way to the identification of musical universals. Of course, mothers and other caregivers are unaware of their infant's music perception skills. Nevertheless, they intuitively alter their speech and singing style for infants in ways that are well suited to infants' capabilities and preferences.

Sunday, March 8, 1998

The Evolution of Memory: What Bird Brains Can Tell Us

Sara J. Shettleworth, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, U of T

The toll in terms of lives lost and property damage arising from natural hazards such as earthquakes, windstorms, floods, volcanoes and wildfires has been steadily rising. The cost to both developing and developed countries has risen to staggering amounts. To address the problems the United Nations has established the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Canada was a co-sponsor and has now established a national committee to oversee Canadian initiatives. The lecturer will discuss the impact of natural disasters in Canada and elsewhere, the initiatives that can be taken to reduce them, and the contributions that Canada can make.

Sunday, March 15, 1998

Polymers and the Periodic Table: The Inorganic Approach to New High-tech Materials

Ian Manners, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, U of T

Organic polymers generally are derived from petroleum and consist of long chain molecules made of thousands of carbon atoms. Materials made from these long chain molecules fill the world around us in the form of plastics, elastomers, and clothing. Polymer structures made from chains of (or which contain) atoms other than carbon (inorganic elements) are of considerable fundamental and applied interest. However, to date, the development of inorganic polymer science has been held back by the synthetic problem of joining atoms of main group elements or transition metals into long polymer chains. This talk will focus on efforts of our group to explore routes to high molecular weight polymers that possess main group elements such as sulfur, boron, nitrogen, phosphorous, silicon, or transition metals such as iron and chromium in the main chain. The resulting properties and possible applications of the resulting materials will be discussed.

Sunday, October 25, 1998

Star Trek on the Brain

Robert Sekuler, Ph.D., Center for Complex Systems, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems, Boston University, Boston, MA

If an ordinary human brain is not the single most complicated object in the universe, it certainly is the most intriguing. Its feats — of thought, perception, action, and complex social organization — are breathtaking; its defeats — failures of logic, misjudgments, mental illness, errors in memory — are heartbreaking. To describe the current understanding of the brain and how it functions, this talk draws not only on science, but also on science fiction. Star Trek's television series and movies offer a rich, whimsical portal onto our brains, their successes and, yes, their shortcomings. By thrusting us into a universe of alien brains and alien minds, Star Trek illuminates human brains and human minds. With illustrations brought from several centuries into the future, the talk invites audience participation. No prior experience with Star Trek is needed for enjoyment and enlightenment.

Sunday, November 1, 1998

Watching Paint Dry

Mitchell A. Winnik, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Chemistry, U of T

Major changes are taking place in the paint industry, driven by concern for the environment and for human health. One type of change involves replacing solvent-based coatings with water-based paints, but the new coatings still have a lot of solvent in them. The second change involves trying to get rid of the remaining solvent, especially in latex house paints. The challenge for the paint industry is to achieve these changes while maintaining or even improving performance. To reach this goal, one needs new knowledge and a deeper understanding about how latex paint in water dries to form a tough plastic film when spread on a wall.

Sunday, November 8, 1998

Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles

Nicholas Mrosovsky, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Departments of Zoology, Psychology and Physiology, U of T

It is impossible to tell the sex of a sea turtle by looking at its chromosomes, as is done for unborn human babies, because these turtles do not have sex chromosomes. Instead, the temperature of the egg determines whether the embryo becomes a male or female. This means that the sex ratio depends on the thermal conditions. What will happen when global warming occurs? Temperature-dependent sex determination makes it possible to produce many offspring of a particular sex by warming or cooling the eggs. Should people be "playing god" in this way? The likelihood that some sea turtle species are on the brink of extinction has been exaggerated, thereby reducing the scope for conservation. Other aspects of the life history of turtles also will be illustrated with slides.

Sunday, November 15, 1998

Symmetry in Mathematics and Science

Joe Repka, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics, U of T

The mathematical concept of symmetry is a natural extension of the familiar everyday notion. It is of fundamental importance in mathematics and in many other areas of science. Profound underlying principles help us to understand why so many things in nature are symmetrical: crystals, snowflakes, flowers, to name a few; and why others are not quite: hen's eggs are not quite round, humans are bilaterally symmetrical on the outside but not on the inside. Symmetry is often the clue to understanding in fields as far apart as quantum mechanics, music and biology.

Sunday, November 22, 1998

Exploring the Underworld: The Sport and Science of Caving

Derek Ford, M.A., D.Phil., F.R.S.C., School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton

Limestone caves can extend for hundreds of kilometres. Many are more than 1500 metres deep and others have chambers much larger than SkyDome in size. Their exploration is one of the last great geographical challenges on Planet Earth. They may display stalactites, stalagmites and other crystal deposits of spectacular beauty and intricacy. Caves preserve the earliest remains of humans and their art, and much longer physical records of climate change and other environmental happenings. The talk will be illustrated with colour slides from caves in many different countries.

Sunday, November 29, 1998

Aging and Memory: What Changes, and What Can Be Done to Help?

Fergus I. M. Craik, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Psychology, Glassman Chair in Neuropsychology, U of T

The experimental literature on adult age changes in memory shows two things very clearly: first, memory performance does decline after the age of 50 or 60, but second, the age-related decline is much greater in some situations than in others. One task for research is thus to map out which types of task are particularly vulnerable to the aging process, and then to generate a theoretical framework that provides a coherent account of why performance holds up in some memory tasks, yet declines in others. The gains in understanding that we hope will emerge from laboratory research then can be used to devise remedial procedures to help older adults with real-life memory problems.

Sunday, December 6, 1998

Weights, Winds and Wheels: Kids’ Science Workshop

George Vanderkuur, B.Sc., Past President, RCI

Science with flair. Learn how to balance an egg on end. Find out why a person can stand on an egg. See the multi-coloured effect of stress on strong structures. All about tunnels, towers and bridges, this workshop explores the shapes and forms that make structures strong and keeps them from falling over.

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.