The Fall 2011 Lectures


Thursday, October 6 at 7:30 pm        MISSISSAUGA

Creative Reactions to the End of the World
William E. Harris, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Department of Physics and Astronomy, McMaster University

Four hundred years ago, Galileo's discoveries revolutionized our view of space and brought an end to the old, Earth-centred view of the world.  Ever since then, the vistas revealed by astronomy and cosmology have provoked our sense of wonder like nothing else can do.  What is out there?  What is our place in an incomprehensibly huge universe?  These questions have deeply affected writers and artists as well as scientists, and the incredibly diverse ways they have responded are a tribute to human creativity.  This talk is a journey through the strikingly different ways that artists and writers have responded to what we have learned about the universe beyond the Earth.

Sunday, October 16 at 3 pm                     TORONTO

Leonardo and Steve:  How Fibonacci
 beat Apple to Market by 800 Years*

Keith Devlin, Ph.D., F.A.A.A.S., Senior Researcher, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University
The first personal computing revolution took place not in Silicon Valley in the 1980s but in Pisa in the 13th Century.  The medieval counterpart to Steve Jobs was a young Italian called Leonardo, better known today by the nickname Fibonacci. Thanks to a recently-discovered manuscript in a library in Florence, the story of how this little known genius came to launch the modern commercial world can now be told.
*Co -sponsored by the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
SUGGESTED READING: Devlin, K., (1) The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution; 
(2) Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years (e-book)

Sunday, October 23 at 3 pm                      TORONTO

Creating Healthy Lifestyles Through Active Design

Gayle Nicoll, B. Tech., M. Arch., Ph.D., OCAD University

North Americans are experiencing an epidemic of chronic health issues related to inactivity which contributes to over 200,000 unnecessary deaths in North America each year due to stroke, cancer, obesity and diabetes.  Research indicates that daily moderate physical activity plays an important role in physical and mental health promotion and disease prevention.  This lecture will provide an introduction to the risks of inactivity, discuss research linking physical activity with the design of the built environment, and comment on the ways that research evidence is being used to create healthier more active urban and building environments. 
The Active Design guidelines can be accessed (free download) at:

Sunday, October 30 at 3 pm                     TORONTO

Can Chemistry Be Green?
Philip G. Jessop, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry, Queen’s University, and Technical Director, GreenCentre Canada
Popular opinion holds that chemistry is the source of most of the environmental and health impacts of industrial activity.  However, the public may not be aware of the importance of chemistry for solving the problem.  "Green chemistry" can reduce impacts on the environment while making our industries more economically competitive.  The presentation will outline the origin of green chemistry, describe how one can assess if a new technology is "green", and mention, as examples of new technologies, the author's switchable solvents.

Thursday, November 3 at 7:30 pm     MISSISSAUGA

From Biopsies to Autopsies: Inside the World of Pathology
Ali A. Rizvi, M.D., M.S., Writer, Cancer Pathologist

The field of pathology, with its denizens huddled in their back offices, laboratories, and morgues, is a mysterious medical specialty.  Pathologists do everything from diagnosing pap smears and biopsies to staging various cancers, to using cytogenetics and molecular genetics to identify and target disease, to collaborating with law enforcement and the legal community to solve crimes.  In this lecture, we will trace the practice of pathology from its origin to the present, and make projections about the exciting and promising role of pathology in the molecular revolution that is widely thought to be the future of medicine.

Sunday, November 6 at 3 pm                   TORONTO

Smash, Bang, Boom!  Fundamental Physics at the LHC
Natalia Toro, Ph.D., Faculty, The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

100 metres under the French-Swiss border lies the world's most ambitious scientific experiment.  A billion times a minute, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) slams together protons, while four giant detectors watch closely.  Though distant from everyday experience, the world of subatomic particles has led to many new technologies and dramatically expanded the range of questions that science can answer.  This talk will introduce the state of the art of particle physics today, and the puzzles that we hope will guide us toward new discoveries.   How does the Large Hadron Collider work, and what can it teach us?  How does the cutting edge of particle physics relate to the world around us, from the patterns of stars in the sky to the fact that they shine at all?  What mysteries are physicists trying to solve with data from the LHC?

Sunday, November 13 at 3 pm                 TORONTO

Throw a Million Darts:  Mathematical Experiments Using Monte Carlo Methods
Neal Madras, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, York University

Scientific research frequently leads to complex mathematical models. To explore such models, researchers often turn to Monte Carlo methods, which are mathematical experiments that use random numbers.  Monte Carlo experiments have become useful tools in physics, finance, and statistics, as well as in other branches of science.  To run these experiments, one typically wants a computer to generate millions (or billions) of random numbers --- a task which seems to contradict a basic characteristic of computers.  I will give some examples of Monte Carlo in action, and also describe how we get the random numbers that we need.

Sunday, November 20 at 3 pm                 TORONTO

What Does Studying Individual Differences Tell Us About the Brain?
Deborah Saucier, Ph.D., Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)

Individuals differ in their spatial abilities, including their ability to navigate through space, to remember the location of items and to compare objects that are presented in different orientations.  The hippocampus, the part of the brain that is associated with many spatial abilities, also exhibits neurogenesis--the development of new cells.   Dr. Saucier's research examines how neurogenesis relates to the performance of spatial abilities, how changes in hormone levels are associated with changes in neurogenesis and spatial ability and how neurogenesis changes as we age.  This research has important implications for understanding how the brain changes over the lifespan.

Sunday, November 27 at 3 pm                  TORONTO

Sight Unseen:  An Exploration of Conscious and Unconscious Vision
Melvyn A. Goodale, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Centre for Brain and Mind, The University of Western Ontario

The idea of two visual systems in a single brain might seem initially counter-intuitive.  Our visual experience of the world is so compelling that it is hard to believe that some other quite independent visual signal – one that we are unaware of – is guiding our movements.  After all, it seems obvious that it is the same subjective image that allows us both to recognize the coffee cup on our desk and to pick it up.  But this belief is an illusion.   As work with neurological patients shows us (and this has been confirmed in recent brain imaging studies), the visual signals that give us our experience of the cup are not the same ones that guide our hand as we pick up it up! 

Thursday, December 1 at 7:30 pm          TORONTO

NOTE: This lecture will be given at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, 55 Dundas St. W., in Lecture Hall TRS-1-067   (NOT in the MacLeod Auditorium)


How Does the Brain Recognize Shapes?
Geoffrey Hinton, F.R.S., Department of Computer Science, U of T,  and Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Computers find it very difficult to hear the difference between "recognize speech" and "wreck a nice beach".  To improve their abilities to see and hear, computers can be programmed to simulate networks of brain cells that learn to perform new tasks by changing the strengths of the connections between cells.  Simple learning rules, originally proposed by neuroscientists, do not work well but slightly more complicated rules allow these networks to learn to recognize objects in images or words in sound-waves better than the best hand-coded programs.  This will lead to truly intelligent machines that, like human babies, invent their own ways of representing their sensory inputs.

This lecture is co-sponsored by NSERC and hosted by Ryerson University

RCI joined forces with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canada’s major funder of science and engineering in universities, to establish the Foundation Lecture, celebrating the foundation of the RCI in 1849.  The Lecture is delivered by the winner of NSERC’s Herzberg Award, presented for a lifetime of extraordinary accomplishment in research in science or engineering.
(For information on previous Foundation Lectures, go HERE)

Sunday, December 4 at 3 pm                 TORONTO

AGES 6 TO 12

Russell Zeid, RCI Council Member

Energy comes in many forms, from the burning heat of our Sun to the fizz in your pop.  Come and participate in some fun science experiences that will change your understanding of how energy changes.  Do you have the energy!

We thank the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and 
the Mississauga Central Library for their support


FREE public one-hour lectures followed by a question period

TORONTO:  Sundays at 3 pm (doors open at 2:15)

Macleod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, University of Toronto

1 King’s College Circle (Nearest Subway is Queen’s Park Station)

Parking on campus, pay/display; limited disabled parking available

NOTE: The Foundation Lecture will be given at Ryerson University -- see below

MISSISSAUGA: Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm at Noel Ryan Auditorium, Mississauga Central Library, 301 Burnhamthorpe Road W.  Free parking is available under the library.  The entrance is an unmarked ramp that can only be accessed southbound on Duke of York Boulevard between City Centre Drive and Burnhamthorpe Road.