Science Café 2011-12

Fall/Winter 2011-12

Abizaid-2011-1.jpgWednesday, September 28, 2011

The fat, the gut, and the chunky: How our brains control metabolism in the face of plenty 

Alfonso Abizaid | Department of Neuroscience


Historically, humans have been exposed to environmental pressures that have shaped our metabolism to defend body weight in the face of food scarcity. Currently however, we are faced with the opposite problem: the prospect of dying of over nutrition. Tonight we will look at research on brain systems regulating metabolism and behaviour, and discuss the difficulties that exist in finding treatments for obesity.

Fourney-2011-a.jpgWednesday, October 12, 2011

Forensic DNA and human idenification

Ron Fourney | Department of Biology


DNA has revolutionized forensic science and aided human identification, much as fingerprinting did in the 18th century. DNA has been called the silent witness. DNA has (1) been challenged in court, (2) helped identify victims of mass disasters, and (3) provided the basis of popular television. Dr Fourney will provide an introduction to forensic DNA analysis, with emphasis on its history, process, future, and examples.

Gorelick-2011-1a.jpgWednesday, October 26, 2011

Are twins one individual or two?

Root Gorelick | Department of Biology


What is an individual? Do fraternal, but not identical, twins constitute two individuals? What if fraternal twins swap cells in utero? Do you lose your identity after an organ transplant? Does a dismembered starfish or plant constitute one disaggregated individual or several? Who ages, a clone or an individual? Evolutionary genetics may provide cogent answers to these questions.

Panario-2011-1.jpgWednesday, November 9, 2011

Costas arrays, Latin squares, Sudoku: some cool applications of finite fields

Daniel Panario | School of Mathematics and Statistics


Finite fields are algebraic structures formed by a finite set together with the operations of addition and multiplication. The simplest finite field has a set of two numbers: 0 and 1. We comment on applications of these objects to radar and sonar communications, military parade arrangements, and popular games like Sudoku.

Manthorpe-2011-1.jpgWednesday, November 23, 2011

Pharmaceuticals: an overview of how drugs are discovered and developed

Jeff Manthorpe | Department of Biology


Where do pharmaceuticals come from? How are they manufactured? Why is it so hard to bring a new drug to market? Why does it take so long? Why are they so expensive? This presentation will provide an overview of the drug discovery process and demonstrate how chemistry, biology, biochemistry, medicine, and business intertwine in the complex web of the pharmaceutical industry.

McFarlane-2011-1.jpgWednesday, December 7, 2011

Folic acid: A public health success story with a twist?

Amanda MacFarlane | Department of Biology


Folic acid fortification of white flour was mandated in 1998 to prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida, resulting in a 46% reduction in neural tube defects in Canada. However, new evidence suggests that folic acid could be associated with progression of certain cancers and other health risks, returning the spotlight to what has been considered a public health success story. We will discuss how progress in science impacts policy.

Holahan-2012-1.jpgWednesday, January 18, 2012

The Crosby crush and concussions

Matt Holahan | Department of Neuroscience


We have all seen videos of hockey players taking hits to the head, falling to the ice and being sidelined. The players often return to action but what happens to the brain after a head shot? This talk will explore the brain consequences of a concussion and the potential link to neurodegeneration reminiscent of Alzheimer’s disease.

Wong-2012-1.jpgWednesday, February 1, 2012

The good, the bad, and the ugly of bacterial diversity

Alex Wong | Department of Biology


Bacteria are an incredibly diverse group of organisms, inhabiting virtually every corner of the planet. Some bacteria perform important roles in the ecosystem, others help us to digest food and absorb nutrients, while still others cause disease. I will highlight the diversity of these microbes through examples of good, bad, and downright ugly bacteria.

Dujmovic-2012-1.jpgWednesday, February 15, 2012

How to guard an art gallery

Vida Dujmović | School of Mathematics and Statistics


What is the minimum number of guards or cameras that can monitor an entire art gallery? In the most basic version of this problem in computational geometry, the floor-plan of the gallery is represented by a simple polygon and each guard is represented by a point in the polygon. I will present an optimal solution for this problem using one of the most widely applicable mathematical tools, namely colourings of graphs.

Burns-2012-1.jpgWednesday, February 29, 2012

What does sustainability look like?

Brian Burns | Institute of Environmental Science


Since first seeing the Earth from space forty years ago we have struggled with the contrasting notions of ‘finity’ and ‘growth’. We now have ‘green’ jargon, faltering global policies, and a slew of environmental labels. This presentation will tackle the more ordinary challenge of seeing what ‘Ecoville’ might look like.

Hellemans-2012-1.jpgWednesday, March 14, 2012

This is your brain on drugs

Kim Hellemans | Department of Neuroscience


Does using drugs kill off brain cells? Will it turn your brain into a fried egg? Why is crack cocaine more addictive than powdered cocaine? Is gambling really an “addiction”? I will provide an illuminating discussion on how drugs of abuse act in the brain to produce their unique perceptual, cognitive, and behavioural effects. Discover why quitting might be easy, but staying sober is a lot harder than you think.

Lapointe-2012-1.jpgWednesday, March 28, 2012

Northern Snakeheads in North America - the rise of Frankenfish

Nick Lapointe | Department of Earth Sciences


Northern snakeheads are a large, predatory fish introduced from eastern Asia. Despite many horror stories in the media, this species has not yet had major ecological impacts in North America. With the ability to breathe air and the hardiness to survive as far north as Siberia, future ecological effects are uncertain.

Agil-2012-1.jpgWednesday, April 11, 2012

Sea Buckthorn: golden berries with health and beauty benefits

Rania Agil and Christina Alswiti | Department of Chemistry


Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a well-recognized berry around the world due to its multiple health benefits. Sea Buckthorn oil was used as early as 212 BC by the Greeks and Persians, who knew that the fruit, seed, and oil had healing properties. Sea Buckthorn oil has high levels of vitamins A and E, as well as essential (omega-3 and -6) and non-essential fatty acids (omega-7 and -9). Sea buckthorn mirrors acai berry in its ability to lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular function.

Gilchrist-2012-1.jpgWednesday, April 25, 2012

Conservation biology of the Common Eider

Grant Gilchrist | Department of Biology


An international research program was initiated in 1996 to assess the winter harvest of Northern Eider ducks and identify possible conservation measures. More recently, Inuit hunters have detected mass eider die-offs, which have been confirmed as multi-year avian cholera outbreaks. As the geographic scope of our study grew to quantify the spread of the disease in the eastern Arctic, we also confirmed that worsening polar bear predation on eider nesting islands may be the next emerging conservation concern for this species.