The Foundation Lectures

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, marking the foundation of the RCI in 1849.  The Lecture is delivered by the winner of the NSERC Herzberg Award, presented for a lifetime of extraordinary accomplishment in research in science or engineering.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NOTE: This lecture was given at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, 55 Dundas St. W., in Lecture Hall TRS-1-067  

Global Warming "Futures":  How Reliable are the Model Projections?

W. Richard Peltier, B.S., M.Sc., Ph.D., Department of Physics,
U of T,  Recipient of the 2011 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

The problem of global climate warming remains an unmet challenge to the ability of the international community to respond.  Warming due to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, caused primarily by human  influence due to fossil fuel burning, is undeniable.  Denial of the accuracy of the scientific projections of plausible futures is most often based upon claims that such projections depend upon overly complex computer models.  I will discuss the physics embodied in these models and the tests that have been performed to establish their validity.  These tests include not only verification of past projections by comparing them to subsequent observations, but also tests against episodes of extreme climate change that are known to have occurred in the past.  I will also discuss what the models suggest will be the climate future in the next century of the Great Lakes Basin region of North America, a landscape inhabited by 35 million persons.

Thursday, December 1, 2011        

How Does the Brain Recognize Shapes?


Geoffrey Hinton, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Professor, Department of Computer Science, U of T,  Recipient of NSERC’s Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Recognizing a familiar shape is a difficult computational problem because foreground clutter may occlude large parts of the shape and the intensities of the pixels that remain are determined as much by the unknown viewpoint and lighting as by the shape.  The brain performs this difficult computation very effectively by learning to extract multiple layers of features from the image.  I will describe two different ways of learning features and I will show that a new model that uses the precise times of neural spikes to represent viewpoint information and can explain a number of phenomena in mental imagery.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quantum Magic for Everyone

 Gilles Brassard, Ph.D., Professor, University of Montreal, Recipient of the NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Quantum mechanics has the potential to spark an unprecedented revolution in information processing.  Whereas quantum computers could trigger a complete meltdown of the schemes currently used over the Internet to protect the security of electronic commerce, quantum cryptography allows us to fight back, making it possible to communicate with unconditional confidentiality.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catching Electrons in Attoseconds


Paul Corkum, O.C., B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., University of Ottawa and National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, Recipient of the 2009 NSERC Herzberg Award

The lecture explains how short intense laser pulses can control electrons and how these electrons are used to create even shorter pulses -- the world’s shortest – with duration measured in attoseconds (1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000 of a second, a billionth of a billionth of a second).  With this very brief flash, it is possible to “photograph” a molecule’s electrons and the position of its atoms.  The audience will leave understanding that we are on the verge of making movies of bonds breaking and atoms rearranging during a chemical reaction – the very essence of chemistry.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Werewolves, Vampires and New Treatments of Disease

David Dolphin, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., F.R.S., O.C., C.E.O., B.C. Innovation Council, Recipient of the 2005 NSERC Herzberg Award

The porphyrias are a class of genetic diseases which are associated with the malfunctioning of heme, the red pigment of blood.  Heme uses eight separate enzymatic steps in its biosynthesis and various porphyrias are known to arise from the improper functioning of one or more of the enzymatic steps. When porphyins, the precursors of heme, are combined with light, they can cause terrible devastation to the skin; these diseases are thought to account for the legends of werewolves and vampires in the Middle Ages.  But harnessing the destructive power of porphyrins and light allows for the treatment of several human diseases -- including cancer and age related macular degeneration -- using a new medical modality known as photodynamic therapy.a

Co-sponsored by NSERC and by MaRS Discovery District