Lecture Series

before Fall 2005

1999 and 2000

Sunday, January 24, 1999

Natural Chemicals With a Message

Jeremy N. McNeil, Ph.D., Département de Biologie, Université Laval, Québec, QC

Insect pests cause considerable economic losses each year and insecticides are the most commonly used means of control. However, the appearance of insecticide resistance, as well as the undesirable ecological effects on beneficial insects and many other non-target organisms, requires that alternate control strategies be found. Insects use naturally occurring chemicals as information cues in decision making for many of their important activities, such as the choice of suitable host plants or a mate. An understanding of the fundamental role of infochemicals in insect decision making can provide ideas for alternate means of control that are ecologically more acceptable than traditional insecticides.

Sunday, January 31, 1999

From Acquisition to Restoration: Protecting Toronto’s Natural Places

Wayne C. Reeves, M.A., City Clerk’s Division, City of Toronto

Protecting lands for their ecological value is a recent phenomenon in Toronto. Support for Toronto's natural structure comes chiefly from a regional system of protected places that arose as much through fortuitous events (like private donations and natural calamities) as from conscious public policy. This lecture explores the interplay between preservation, development, and naturalization during three broad phases of activity: early park acquisitions and advocacy (1873-1942); the establishment and rapid expansion of the regional greenspace system (1943-75); and recent naturalization and restoration efforts (1976-present).

Note: Mr. Reeves is a contributor to the RCI’s 150th Anniversary book Special Places: The Past, Present and Future of the ecosystems of the Toronto Region to be published by UBC Press in September 1999.

Lecture co-sponsored by Toronto Field Naturalists

Sunday, February 7, 1999

Rebuilding the Adult Brain

Derek van der Kooy, Ph.D., Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, U of T

If you are 70 years old, then the neurons of your brain are also 70 years old. Unlike the blood system where new cells are made through life, we are thought to be stuck with the neurons we're born with. However, recently neural stem and progenitor cells, which have the ability to make new neurons in old brains, have been discovered in all mammals including humans. Attention will be paid to where these stem and progenitor cells are, why they don't normally produce new neurons after injury, and how they might.

Sunday, February 14, 1999

Supernovae and the Fate of the Universe

Peter Garnavich, Ph.D., Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Supernovae emit more energy in a few weeks than our Sun will produce in its entire 10 billion year lifetime. These exploding stars are so bright that they can be seen back to a time when the Universe was half its present age, making them powerful probes of the history and content of the Universe. A program to discover and study these very distant supernovae is underway and has already found that the Universal expansion appears to be accelerating. Such an acceleration can not be due to normal matter and suggests that an exotic form of energy dominates the Universe.

Co-sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre, and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics

Sunday, February 21, 1999

Photoelectronics: a New Twist on the Interaction of Light and Electrons

John E. Sipe, Ph.D., Department of Physics, U of T

Laser beams have long been used to increase the energy of electrons in semiconductors such as silicon, removing them from chemical bonds and making them free to move through the crystal. Only recently has it been realized that with particular use of laser beams the electrons can be given an average velocity as well, in some cases on the order of hundreds of kilometres per second! The momentum comes not from the light, but is forced on the electrons by the way the light affects their interaction with the crystal itself. Such photoelectronic effects may be useful for device applications, and are exciting new realizations of fundamental quantum mechanical paradigms.

Sunday, February 28, 1999  

Affective Computing

Rosalind W. Picard, Sc.D., MIT Media Laboratory, Cambridge, MA

Isn't emotion the last thing we want in a computer? This talk will begin by describing why it may be beneficial to give certain machines affective abilities. The present emphasis is on giving machines the skills of emotional intelligence, which can be more important than traditional mathematical and verbal skills in establishing successful human interaction. I will describe new research giving computers the ability to recognize, express, and in some cases have emotions, with emphasis on enabling computers to recognize human expressions of interest, frustration, and confusion, and to respond in an appropriate way. I will show examples of "affective wearable computers," such as eyeglasses that communicate expressions of confusion or interest, and a wearable "StartleCam", a first step toward a personal camera that automatically notices what gets your attention.

Sunday, March 7, 1999

Dolly’s Dilemma: the Science and Ethics of Human Cloning

Janet Rossant, M.A., Ph.D., Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, U of T; and Margaret A. Somerville, A.M., F.R.S.C., Gale Professor of Law and Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal

The world-wide controversy caused by Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, took the scientific, legal and ethical establishment by surprise. Science fiction stories on making human clones suddenly seemed closer to science fact. In this lecture, an expert scientist will describe the science behind cloning and its possible impact on future human reproductive technologies and a leading ethicist will discuss the legal and ethical issues raised by the cloning debate.


Sunday, March 14, 1999

The Y2K Problem:  Facts, Fictions, Forecasts

Jack Gorrie, P. Eng., Provost’s Advisor on Information Technology, U of T

We are about to experience a unique challenge in our technology-dependent lives. The Year 2000 Problem, abbreviated Y2K and also known as the Millennium Bug, has the potential to affect all our computer-controlled date-sensitive systems, in our businesses, our homes, and our communication, transportation and health-care systems. We have heard a wide range of predictions, ranging from end-of-the-world scenarios to business-as-usual reassurances. This talk will explain the Year 2000 Problem, explore why there is so much uncertainty about its resolution, and examine our readiness.

Sunday,March 21, 1999

Science for Young People(ages 7 - 97):  The Deception of Perception

Allison B. Sekuler, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, U of T, President, RCI; and George Vanderkuur, B.Sc., Past President, RCI

Sunday, October 24, 1999

The RCI: Achievement and Change Through 150 Years

Conrad Heidenreich, Ph.D., Department of Geography, York University, and Past President, RCI (1991-92)

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the RCI, a brief retrospective of our remarkable Institute will be presented. From shaky beginnings in 1849 the Institute grew rapidly in complexity, membership and influence, filling a huge intellectual void in Toronto. During the 19th century its activities encompassed all aspects of intellectual endeavour. As scholarship became more complex toward the end of the century, the Institute encouraged its many interest groups to establish specialized, independent societies, while it focussed increasingly on the pure and applied sciences. The strength of the Institute lay in its flexibility to meet intellectual change; its careful selection of the scholars and endeavours it supported; and the integrity and dedication of the talented men and women it attracted to its membership and executive.

Sunday, October 31, 1999

Global Warming: The Science and the Risks

Danny Harvey, Ph.D., Department of Geography, U of T

The prospect of a significant warming of the climate over the coming century will profoundly affect most facets of human society as well as natural ecosystems worldwide. Taking action to reduce the magnitude and rate of future warming, on the other hand, will require significant changes in the energy system that is at the core of the global economy. There are large uncertainties concerning both the impacts of global warming and the effects of preventative action ­­ uncertainties that have been exploited by those resisting any form of preventative action. However, the uncertainties largely concern the details of global warming, while the fundamental basis for concern remains firm. This lecture will outline the scientific basis for concern about global warming and the nature of the risks that we face if preventative action is not undertaken.

Sunday, November 7, 1999

What Makes a Chemical a Pollutant?

Scott A. Mabury, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, U of T

We spend our days continuously bathed in chemicals, many of which are crucial for our survival. While some chemicals are largely inert or benign, others are toxic ­­ either acutely or chronically. Many people accept the notion that synthetic chemicals are "bad", whereas natural chemicals are by their nature "good". In fact, the distinction is more complicated than this. Certain architectures of putting atoms together in molecules lead to physical or chemical properties that determine whether a chemical is a pollutant. For instance, some chemicals have a severe phobia of water, which leads them to flee into other compartments, such as fish, often in very high concentrations. Other chemicals dream of the Wright brothers and prefer to fly with the clouds . Accurate predictions about a new chemical's fate in the environment require a thorough understanding of these personality traits.

Sunday, November 14, 1999

Brain Development: Neuronal Sculpting by the Physical and Social Environment

Barrie J. Frost, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Psychology, Biology and Physiology, Max Bell Fellow CIAR, Queen’s University, Kingston

The brains of vertebrates, including humans, develop their full adult complexity through a carefully orchestrated expression of genetic instructions and sculpting by the physical and social environment. Evidence will be presented that indicates that after the major subdivisions of the brain are differentiated, there is a continuing sequence of genetically determined "sensitive periods" during which the physical environment provides specific and lawful sets of sensory and perceptual information necessary for acquiring competent adult visual, auditory and tactile knowledge of the world. Likewise, it will be argued that there are critical periods for building brain circuits for the mutual bonding and attachment of offspring and parents, the appropriate learning of what to fear and avoid, and for laying down countless other social, emotional, cognitive and cultural skills.

Sunday, November 21, 1999

Fog and Fog Collection: Exploring This Hidden Water Resource

Robert S. Schemenauer, Ph.D., Emeritus Research Scientist, Environment Canada, Toronto

Fog plays an important role in numerous ecosystems. In many cases, the role of fog has not been recognized or quantified. Enormous volumes of water are contained in the fog present in coastal and mountainous regions. The water droplets in these fogs can be collected by vegetation, as in tropical or temperate montane cloud forests, or deposited onto grass-covered hills. In desert regions, free of vegetation, it is possible to capture fog droplets in large artificial fog collectors. This provides an inexpensive, low-technology, sustainable source of water, and the technique is presently being used in many parts of the world for domestic, agricultural and forestry uses. The lecture will review the physics and chemistry of fog, the capture and use of fog water by vegetation, international fog collection projects, and the use of fog as a water supply for the next century.

Sunday, November 28, 1999

Fine Fly Dining: Will That Be For Here Or To Go?

Marla B. Sokolowski, B.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Zoology, U of T

The question of how genes contribute to normal individual differences in behaviour has captured our imagination for more than a century. Two fundamental questions come to mind: How do genes and their proteins act in the nervous system to cause normal individual differences in behaviour? How do genes and their proteins act in response to the environment to affect normal individual differences in behaviour? The lecture will describe how studies of behaviour genetics using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, can help us answer these complex questions. The fruit fly is considered as a model organism that can be used to discover novel genes. In some cases, the genes initially discovered in the fly have homologues in mammals including humans. W e will focus on food search behaviour, which is comprised of two behavioural strategies: rover and sitter. The lecture will describe how the fruit fly's foraging gene was discovered, located, and cloned, and also how the gene's protein, an enzyme also found in the human brain, may act to influence food-related behaviours.

Sunday, December 5, 1999

For Young People ages 7 - 97: The Matching Game

Ed Barbeau, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics, U of T

There are lots of things that come in twos, and many of them are mathematical. Some powerful mathematical results depend on simple everyday ideas, like pairing things off. Sometimes we learn that we cannot do something. Sometimes it helps to count things in two different ways. Sometimes we find out interesting things about numbers, or geometry.  No background is necessary. This is mathematics for all ages!

Sunday, January 23, 2000

Science and Health in the New Millenium

John R.G. Challis, D.Sc., F.R.C.O.G., F.R.S.C., Ernest B. and Lonard B. Smith Professor and Chair, Department of Physiology, U of T

As we approach the new millennium there are unprecedented advances in health research, and wonderful opportunities for new methods of diagnosing and treating disease. These will range from high-tech sophisticated procedures to the use of new genetic and molecular biology approaches. Yet each of these advances will come with ethical questions that will demand informed societal response, and expense. In parallel, improved health will arise from a self-imposed healthy lifestyle. Moreover, recognition that aspects of our health as adults are programmed by the environment in which we developed in our mother's womb suggests new approaches to disease prevention and a paradigm shift in health policy within different societies.

Sunday, January 30, 2000

Artificial Animals (And Humans): From Physics to Intelligence

Demetri Terzopoulos, B.Eng., M.Eng., Ph.D., Department of Computer Science, U of T

Research in Artificial Life, an emerging discipline that transcends the traditional boundaries between computational science and biological science, has yielded physics-based virtual worlds inhabited by realistic "artificial animals". These synthetic organisms possess biomechanical bodies, sensors, and brains with locomotion, perception, behavior, learning, and cognition centers. Artificial animals, including artificial humans, are of interest in computer graphics because they are self-animating creatures that dramatically advance the state of the art of character animation and interactive games. As biomimetic autonomous agents situated in realistic virtual worlds, artificial animals also foster a deeper, computationally oriented understanding of complex living systems. A multi-media presentation will render the technical material accessible to all.

Sunday, February 6, 2000

Enhancing Drug Discovery Using Combinatorial Synthesis

Michael G. Organ, Ph.D., Director, Combinatorial Chemistry facility, York University

Typically, in combinatorial synthesis, several known reactions are put together in a multi-step sequence. This sequencing allows a number of different reagents to be used in parallel to produce final targets with many points of molecular diversity. A key aspect of this approach is the identification of a useful "template" molecule that can be readily manipulated into an infinite number of compounds that contain the necessary functional groups (e.g., alcohol, acid, amine, etc.) for the target to demonstrate the desired property (e.g., biological activity, catalyst turnover, material durability, etc.). The approach being targeted in our program uses transition-metal catalysis to build the structure of the final targets from such a template. The products of this work are drug candidates being screened for efficacy in the treatment of diseases of the central nervous system.

Sunday, February 13, 2000

The Kuiper Belt and the Origin of the Solar System

Martin Duncan, Ph.D., Professor and Head of Physics, Queen’s University

In the middle of this century, Kenneth Edgeworth and Gerard Kuiper independently suggested that our planetary system is surrounded by a disk of material left over from the formation of the planets. Theoretical work in the 1980's suggested that this disk (now called the Kuiper belt) was likely to be the reservoir supplying most of the comets now found orbiting closer to the Sun. Beginning with the discovery of its first member in 1992, the Kuiper belt has been transformed from a theoretical construct to a bona fide and well-populated component of the solar system. By now, roughly 200 Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) have been discovered -- a sufficiently large number that we are beginning to learn surprising things about the structure of the region beyond Neptune. This talk will provide a comparison of the observed orbital properties of these objects with theoretical studies and computer simulations. What are revealed are some tantalizing clues to the formation and evolution of the outer Solar system.

Joint meeting with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Sunday, February 20, 2000

Aging and Vision:  The Amazing Changing Brain

Allison B. Sekuler, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, U of T; President, RCI

The effects of aging on vision have real and important consequences for individuals and society. Along with the other senses, vision contributes centrally to a wide variety of cognitive abilities, including attention and memory. Age-related changes in visual function also affect the ability to function in more practical ways, often restricting the mobility of older adults. This lecture will discuss recent behavioural and brain-imaging work we have done to characterize how vision and related cognitive functions change across the lifespan. Our results suggest older brains have more plasticity, or flexibility, than previously believed. For example, under certain conditions, the brains of older adults can undergo functional re-organization to optimize performance on simple visual tasks. The possible implications of such reorganization for more complex tasks will be discussed.

Sunday, February 27, 2000

The Development and Testing of a Full-scale Piloted Ornithopter (Flapping-wing Aircraft)

James DeLaurier, Ph.D., Institute for Aerospace Studies, U of T

This talk will discuss the design, construction, and testing of a full-scale 12m-span piloted ornithopter. The motivation for this project was the desire to achieve an aeronautical "first": the realization of humanity's most ancient dream of flight with flapping wings. In 1991, we developed a 3m-span remotely-piloted proof-of-concept model, which provided the key analytical tools for assessing the feasibility of the full-scale aircraft. Although many of the structural-design and construction methods were scaled from the model, several new development issues for the full-scale ornithopter had to be addressed (e.g., cockpit layout, pilot safety, and undercarriage design). Beginning in 1996, annual fully-instrumented taxi trials have been conducted, alternating with design and structural changes. The most recent tests have brought this aircraft to the verge of full flight, resulting in controlled take-off hops from which in-flight loads data have been obtained. This talk elucidates how an engineering project can differ from scientific research in that the goal is the creation of an unprecedented technological artifact rather than an act of discovery.

Sunday, March 5, 2000

From People to Robots, and Back

Maja J. Mataric, Ph.D., Director, USC Robotics Research Labs, Department of Computer Science and Neuroscience, University of Southern California

Biological systems are the inspiration for robotics. Besides constructing utilitarian machines, robotic systems have been used to study and gain insight into their biological models. A new science of analysis through synthesis is emerging, based on building systems in order to study their behaviour and their relation to nature. The approach is being applied to a broad spectrum of research areas, from locomotion to brain theory to social behaviour. We will traverse the path from biology to robotics and back, focusing on the recent surge of research into humanoid robots and human-like interaction, including imitation.

Sunday, March 12, 2000

Wolves of Algonquin Park

John Theberge, Ph.D., Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, University of Waterloo, and Mary Theberge, B.I.S.

Wolves arouse a passion in people. Some are fascinated by them; others hate them. Many times the Theberges have been confronted with the question "What good is a wolf anyway?" The presentation will provide an answer to that question by describing the lives of the wolves that they have come to know. They will address a number of fascinating issues such as: whether wolf packs aggressively defend their territories; whether wolves kill more of their prey than the prey population can sustain; and whether pack behaviour supports the idea of the survival of the best fit group. Their studies have led them to investigate the many elements that shape wolf habitat. What they have found is evidence that the Algonquin Park wolf population is under siege: fractured, scattered, and threatened by an invasion of coyote genes.

Sunday, March 19, 2000

For Young People ages 7 - 97!  A Brief Tour of the Universe

Terence Dickinson, O.C., Leading Author, Broadcaster, and Columnist

Using more than 100 colour slides along with some effective "props," the audience will be taken from the starry skies in a backyard in rural Ontario to the farthest reaches of the universe. This lively, factually up-to-date presentation is suitable for curious young people of all ages--from seven to 97.

Sunday, October 22, 2000

Wild Salmon, Escaped Farmed Salmon and a Conservation Imperative

Frederick J. Whoriskey Jr., Ph.D., VP Research and Environment, Atlantic Salmon Federation, St. Andrews, NB

North American populations of wild Atlantic salmon are in decline, to the point of biological extinction in Northern Maine and the Bay of Fundy region.  In this region there has been an explosion in the farm rearing of Atlantic salmon.  Intensive domestication programs have genetically altered the salmon used on the farms, and accidental releases of fish from the sea cages and freshwater hatcheries are occurring.  Escapees are now "swamping" annual runs to rivers in areas where salmon farming occurs.  If wild populations are to recover, as a first step they must be insulated from interactions with the industry.  This is possible due to common interests between the industry and conservation organizations (keeping farm fish in the cages; eradicating diseases).  At present, the two groups are circling each other like wary porcupines, seeking ways to move forward.

Sunday, October 29, 2000

The Global Village is a Myth

Paul Hoffert, Research Professor, Sheridan College; Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts, York University; Director, Digital Media Institute

Local connected communities, not the global village, will characterize this century. The Industrial Age moved people to products, services, and information using rail, automotive, and air routes, fostering globalization. In contrast, the Digital Age moves products, services, and information to people using digital routes, promoting localization. New research indicates that when neighbourhoods are connected with local digital networks, they are friendlier and more supportive of face-to-face socialization, family values, and local interests, reversing some of industrialization's worst artifacts. This is surprising, given the accepted prognosis that residents will increasingly cocoon in their homes and become monitor-zombies.

Sunday, November 5, 2000

The Biodiversity Crisis in Vietnam

Robert W. Murphy, Ph.D., Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Royal Ontario Museum; Department of Zoology, U of T

The biodiversity crisis is here, or is it? Since 1994 a team of biologists from the Royal Ontario Museum and the Zoological Institute of St. Petersburg (Russia) joined Vietnamese colleagues to investigate the problem in Vietnam. Our initial surveys into the diversity of amphibians and reptiles led us to conclude that little is known about the diversity of species. For example, efforts since 1994 have almost doubled the number of known species in Vietnam, including species not previously recorded in Vietnam as well as numerous new species.  These findings are discussed in light of ongoing efforts by the Vietnamese to conserve their fauna and flora, and the likelihood of such efforts being successful.

Sunday, November 12, 2000

Beyond Hubble: the Next Generation Space Telescope

Simon J. Lilly, Ph.D., Department of Astronomy, U of T; NGST Project Scientist

The Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) is the planned successor to the highly successful Hubble Space Telescope (HST), with launch scheduled for 2009.  The NGST will be as large as the very largest telescopes on Earth and, sent 1.5 million km from Earth, the telescope and science instruments will cool to only 35-50 degrees above absolute zero, producing extraordinary sensitivity for observations of very faint objects. The NGST will tell us about "origins"-- and especially the formation and evolution of the galaxies, stars and planets.  The Canadian Space Agency is participating in the NGST along with NASA and ESA.  This talk will outline the science drivers for the NGST, the status of the project in Canada, the US and Europe, and describe the likely Canadian contributions to the observatory.

Joint meeting with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Sunday, November 19, 2000

The Genetics of Dementia

Peter St George-Hyslop, M.D., F.R.C.P. (C), Division of Neurology, Director, Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases, U of T; Director, Alzheimer’s Clinic, Toronto Hospital

At the University of Toronto, in June 1995, a mutation was identified in a gene on chromosome 14 responsible for the most aggressive form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.  This was the first time that a causative agent was found for this complex neurodegenerative disorder.  Just two months later, in August 1995, a second gene was located on chromosome 1, associated with a less severe form of early-onset familial Alzheimer's disease.  We know now that there are at least 3 and probably 4 or 5 different genes involved in the inherited susceptibility to this disease.  They produce similar proteins which suggests that they have similar and possibly sequential functions.  This lecture will describe the complex genetic and biochemical process involved in Alzheimer's disease.

Sunday, November 26, 2000

How Do We See and Move at the Same Time?

Laurence R. Harris, Ph.D., Departments of Psychology and Biology, York University

We tend to assume that we can continue to see while moving about, as well as we can while standing still. But actually, the task of seeing from such an unstable moving platform as the head presents the brain with some serious challenges. For example, one aspect of seeing is knowing where everything is: reporting that you can see something implies that you could point to it or go over and touch it, if required.  This knowledge of where everything is has to be updated every time we move. Another problem is blur. Why doesn't everything seem blurred? Pictures taken from a camera strapped to the head certainly would, most of the time. When we move relative to something, it is exactly the same as that object moving relative to us. How do we tell the difference? The answer to the question "how do we see and move at the same time?" is not so simple as it might first appear. This lecture will describe how the eye, the brain and, perhaps surprisingly, the ear, work together to enable us at least to think we can see and move at the same time.

Sunday, December 3, 2000

Young People’s Science Show

John Caranci, Toronto District School Board, and George Vanderkuur, B.Sc., Past President, RCI

Fun with Physics -- demonstrations that entertain, puzzle and captivate. Using simple, easy to get materials this program is loaded with activities and ideas to try at home or to give a boost to your science projects.  Although everyone is welcome, this fun-filled presentation is designed for our own RCI Kids' Club* and all other school-aged young people.

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.