Science Café

Explore science through Carleton University’s popular Science Cafés, held twice a month during the fall and winter terms at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library at 1049 Bank Street (at Aylmer Ave in Old Ottawa South). Each café begins at 6:30 p.m. with a 20-minute talk by a scientist followed by a 40-minute open question and answer period.

Come and join us for a lively discussion around a scientific issue of the day. Be prepared to be informed, engaged and even amused, as our professors share their scientific discoveries with you. All are welcome.

For more information, please contact the Faculty of Science by email at odscienceatcarleton [dot] ca or by telephone at 613-520-4388.

View the archives

Winter 2018

Wednesday, January 17

Lost in translation – linking protein synthesis to human disease

Martin Holcik, Department of Health Sciences


Translation, or protein synthesis, is an essential mechanism required to decode cellular information stored in nucleic acids into proteins, the building blocks of cells. It is now well established that cellular stress, both physiologic and pathophysiologic, selectively modulates protein synthesis in order to match the correct protein output to the conditions. The mechanisms allowing this selective control, and their links to human disorders will be presented and discussed.

Wednesday, January 31

Black Boxes - Using Models in Groundwater Science

Rich Amos, Department of Earth Sciences


Potable water is a critical and limited resource throughout the world and is constantly under threat from over use and contamination. Groundwater in particular serves as the primary source of fresh water for many places throughout Canada and the world for irrigation, industry and domestic use. Groundwater scientists have for many years used computer models to understand the flow of groundwater and the complex geochemical reactions that control the concentrations of natural solutes and contaminants. This talk will explore the use of models in groundwater science and how they help us to better understand groundwater processes and better manage groundwater resources.

Wednesday, February 14

Can biodiversity loss make us sick?

Felipe Dargent, Department of Biology


The earth is thought to be in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. Species are being lost globally at unprecedented high rates, presenting consequences for the species that remain, including humans. One potential consequence is the emergence and spread of infectious diseases that can infect and be transmitted by multiple ‘reservoir’ host species. Crucially, the transmission of those diseases across species depends on how readily reservoir hosts catch and maintain the infectious agents. One recent hypothesis, dubbed the ‘dilution effect’, proposes that the loss of species in an environment leads to increased transmission of infection because the species that are better suited to escape extinction are also those that are more likely to catch and sustain high levels of infection. Such a scenario presents a strong practical argument in favour of the conservation of biodiversity as a tool for public health. In this talk I will present an overview of the mechanisms that link biodiversity to disease and dissect several case studies that either support or refute the idea that biodiversity loss leads to an increased prevalence of disease among humans and other animals. 


Wednesday, February 28

Understanding how proteins communicate and how this information drives the advancement of patient-driven medicine

Kyle Biggar, Institute of Biochemistry and Department of Biology


Cellular signaling networks coordinate physiological processes in all multicellular organisms. These signaling networks control cell fate decisions that ultimately determine normal cell behavior. However, when the regulatory controls over these signaling networks are lost, they can also drive the progression of cancerous cells. Therefore, the dynamics of pathway activity may contain prognostically relevant information as a type of tumor-specific biomarker. Understanding signaling networks enables the prediction of disease mechanisms and possible responses to therapeutic strategies. This talk will highlight research strategies and current advances of targeted disease therapies for use in patient-specific therapy.

Wednesday, March 14

Iceland's Geological Marvels: A Tour of the Land of Fire and Ice

Brian Cousens, Department of Earth Sciences


Photo:  View looking north across Lake Myvatn towards the geothermal fields of the Krafla volcanic system, northeastern Iceland.  Photo by Brian Cousens.

Iceland is synonymous with spectacular natural scenery, towering waterfalls, stark black lava flows, broad ice fields and geothermal spas. Located above a thermal anomaly in the Earth’s interior, sitting on the mid-Atlantic rift system, and partially covered by glaciers, the volcanic features of Iceland are unique in the world. These features include the spectacular craters of the Lake Myvatn/Krafla area, the destructive deposits of Hekla Volcano, the dazzling eruptive cones of the Laki volcanic field, and the young 2014-2015 Holuhraun lava field. The heat from the volcanic activity and the abundant water on Iceland results in spectacular hydrothermal activity, used to produce electricity and heating for Icelanders, as well as magnificent outdoor spas.

Wednesday, March 28

Drone Hacking

Michel Barbeau, School of Computer Science


Drones are flying robots, without on-board human pilots. They revolutionize many areas, such as surveillance, search and rescue, aerial imagery and package delivery. They can work in coordinated groups. Their autonomy and ability to achieve complex reasoning are growing, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence. They have enormous potential.

Drone hacking is an activity aiming to modify and extend the capabilities of a drone. A drone hacker is challenged with an autopilot, a communication, and various embedded systems. One of the best-known examples happened in 2011 when a US drone has been hijacked, hacked and reversed engineered by Iran.

In this talk, the system architecture of a drone will be explained. We will review the system components and show how each of them is hackable. Access to the navigation system, computer and communication system will be discussed. Drone control and programming will be introduced.

Fall 2017

Wednesday, September 27

Where do insects go in the winter?


Heath MacMillan, Department of Biology


I’m sorry to say it, but winter is coming! As the cold weather approaches we will get our coats and hats out of the storage bin and make sure our homes are well insulated. For us humans, staying alive in winter is a matter of staying warm by producing and retaining heat. Insects, however are ectotherms, meaning their body temperature follows the temperature of their surroundings, so staying warm simply isn’t an option. When the air is -30°C, the insect is -30°C! But how can they possibly survive that, and where are they spending those cold winter days? Insects represent more than 75% of animal species on our planet, so we can’t expect them all to deal with winter in the same way. I will introduce you to the many ways that insects survive the cold. While some make like retirees and travel enormous distances to escape the cold, others can adjust their physiology to prepare for winter in a hibernation-like state called diapause. Some have even evolved fascinating ways of avoiding or surviving being frozen solid. Understanding the ways insects accomplish these incredible feats can lead to important advancements in a range of areas, such as predicting how climate change will affect insect pests, or even how to cryopreserve delicate human organs for transplant.

Wednesday, October 11

New Eyes on the Universe: A guided tour of the SNOLAB exhibit

Andrew Erlandson, PhD candidate, Department of Physics


Location: Fenn Lounge, Residence Commons, Carleton University; 6:30 p.m.

Experience the travelling exhibit showcasing the science of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) and SNOLAB with guide Andrew Erlandson. A doctoral candidate in Carleton’s Department of Physics, Andrew works closely with Dr. Mark Boulay on DEAP – a SNOLAB experiment which searches for dark matter, one of the Universe’s biggest mysteries. Andrew will help explain the connections between neutrinos, dark matter, and the rest of the universe based on his first-hand experience in the field. Through SNOLAB’s research, both past and present, we have never been closer to seeing the big picture. This exhibit will take you on a journey from the depths of the Earth to the far reaches of the cosmos guided by your own personal physicist.

Wednesday, November 8

A big future for small science: the promise and challenge of nanotechnology

Maria DeRosa, Department of Chemistry


Nanotechnology is all about making, measuring, and manipulating unimaginably small things – materials and devices a million times smaller than a millimeter. From our smart phones to our sporting equipment, from our clothing to our sunscreens, nanotechnology is being incorporated in products that are all around us that we might use every day. This lecture will provide an introduction to nanoscience and nanotechnology with some information about how the fundamental properties of materials change when they are on the nanoscale. The science behind new nano-enabled products will be explored. Bionanotechnology, which draws inspiration from nature, will be examined. The potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology will also be discussed.


Wednesday, November 22

Protein communications within a cell; what makes a cell “tick”?

Ashkan Golshani, Department of Biology


Proteins are the macromolecules responsible for the majority of biological functions in a living cell.  For this purpose proteins need to communicate with each other. They do so by physically interacting (binding) with one another and forming transient or lasting complexes. The mechanisms of this communication have been the subject of vigorous investigations over the years. Understanding the basis of these communications can help us better understand the biology of a living cell. That is, we can better realize what makes the cell behave as a “living system”. Over the past decade, my laboratory in collaboration with others, have shown that some of these interactions are mediated by simple codes on the proteins. These codes can help us predict the interaction among proteins and how to perhaps modify them for specific purposes.