The Faculty of Science hosts public lectures during the academic year that address a scientific issue of the day as well as bring to campus well-known scientists from around the world. Established in 2002, the Discovery Lecture is designed to showcase and promote excellence in science journalism. Sponsored jointly by the Faculty of Science and the School of Journalism, the lecture is held annually in the winter semester and is free and open to the public.

2021 Discovery Lecture

Spiders to Wrangle & Mountains to Climb

Thursday, March 18, 2021
Lecture begins at 7 p.m. followed by
Q&A at 8 p.m. ET
Zoom webinar

A presentation by Maydianne CB Andrade
Professor, Biological Sciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Special Advisor to the Dean, University of Toronto Scarborough
President, Canadian Black Scientists Network
Co-Chair, Toronto Initiative for Diversity and Excellence

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Maydianne Andrade at the Burgess Shale with the field crew of Dr. Jean Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum) during filming of First Animals (the Nature of Things).

Maydianne Andrade at the Burgess Shale with the field crew of Dr. Jean Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum) during filming of First Animals (the Nature of Things). Photo by Andy Gregg.


Understanding how ecological and social context shapes the evolution of species is a major focus in biology, with implications for understanding individual variation, species diversity and resilience to environmental change. Given that the currency of evolution is reproduction, sexual behaviours and traits can be key to understanding these dynamics.

Maydianne Andrade discusses how her fundamental research on sexual behaviours and plasticity has leveraged the extreme mating systems of cannibalistic black widow spiders to gain insights into links between ecology and evolution.  Of particular interest is how traits related to behaviour, life history, and physiology can shift as a function of cues that indicate challenges to fitness in varied habitats.

Interwoven in this narrative is a parallel story about navigating, understanding, acknowledging, and then embracing what is means to be a scientist who is also a Black woman. Her experiences highlight the importance of role models, knowledge translation and outreach, and how the communication skills and perceived authority of scientists can be deployed, with intention, caution, and care, to engage with broader audiences.

2021 Guest Lecturer

Maydianne CB Andrade

Portrait of Maydianne CB Andrade

Maydianne CB Andrade | Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn

Professor Andrade earned her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University and is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and in the Graduate Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at UT St. George. As a Canada Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology (2007 to 2018), Fellow of the Animal Behaviour society, and elected member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Professor Andrade’s fundamental research has a primary focus on the evolution of mating behaviour and species diversity, using black widow spiders as models. Since 2010, she has also been engaged in knowledge translation with respect to the effects of bias on diversity and inclusion in academia. In 2019 she was awarded the Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize by the University of Toronto’s Alumni Association in recognition of the impact of her work, including founding and acting as co-Chair of TIDE (the Toronto Initiative for Diversity and Excellence). In 2020, she joined with other faculty to create the Canadian Black Scientists Network, for which she is currently serving as President. A strong proponent of outreach and public communication to encourage broad engagement in science and equity, Prof. Andrade has served as a guest on CBC radio (IDEAS, Quirks and Quarks), hosted an episode of The Nature of Things (First Animals), and most recently has partnered with University of Toronto Communications to create the podcast The New Normal.

Previous lectures, 2002-present

Analyzing Picasso: Close Encounters in Art and Science (2020)
Francesca Casadio

The Past, Present and Future of Medicine (2019)
Natasha Loder

What Dinosaur Teeth Reveal About How they Lived (2018)
Robert Reisz

A Quirky Past, An Uncertain Future (2017)
André Picard

The New Communication Climate (2016)
Andrew Revkin

How to Build a Robot Brain: From Artificial Intelligence to Emotional Intelligence (2015)
Dr. Angelica Lin

Truth, An Inconvenience (2012)
Jay Ingram

Darwinian Evolution: From Conception to Misconception (2009)
Dr. Andrew M. Simons

Evolution and Its Causes (2009)
Dr. Charles Goodnight

The Darwin Beat: Dispatches From the Frontiers of Evolution (2008)
Carl Zimmer

Can Animals Think? (2007)
Jay Ingram
Host, Discovery Channel, Daily Planet

And Now For the Weather (2006)
David Phillips
Senior Climatologist, Environment Canada

Cold As Ice: Canadian Know A Lot About Cold …. Or Do We? (2005)
Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht
Professor of Thermophysiology, University of Manitoba

Future Fantasy: Turning Dreams Into Reality (2004)
Bob MacDonald
Host, CBC Quirks and Quarks

Science, Non-Science and Nonsense from Aliens to Creationism (2003)
Dr. Lawrence Krauss
Ambrose Swassey Professor of Physics, Case Western University

Hey! There Are Cockroaches In My Chocolate Ice Cream (2002)
Dr. Joe Schwarcz
McGill Office for Chemistry and Society