Science Café 2013-14

Fall/Winter 2013-14

Abizaid-2011-1.jpgWednesday, September 25, 2013

This is your brain on exercise

Kim Hellemans | Department of Neuroscience


The benefits of exercise on physical health are well established; however, until recently, the effects of exercise on mental health have been less understood. Recent advances in the field of neuroscience are uncovering fascinating effects of exercise on brain function. Professor Hellemans will discuss some of this research, as well as how cardiovascular exercise can reduce the effects of age-related dementia, improve attention and executive functioning, make individuals more resilient to stress, and literally “build” a better brain

Fourney-2011-a.jpgWednesday, October 9, 2013

Patterns: Celtic knots simply explained

Angelo Mingarelli | School of Mathematics and Statistics


After reviewing the history of the Lindisfarne Gospels (ca. 715 CE), Professor Mingarelli will show how one can manufacture complex Celtic-looking patterns in a very straightforward way.

Gorelick-2011-1a.jpgWednesday, October 23, 2013

Air pollution and health: A Canadian perspective on where we've been and where we're going

Paul Villeneuve | Department of Neuroscience


It has been more than 60 years since the Great Smog of 1952 in London, England, where the public became aware of how increased levels of outdoor air pollution can dramatically affect human health. Since then, a number of different types of epidemiological studies have investigated how short-term (i.e. day to day) changes in air pollution can influence acute health responses. More recently, the focus of many studies has been whether longer term exposure to air pollution plays a role in the development of disease. Many improvements have also been made in how we are able to measure air pollution. At this time, air pollution exposure is now linked to wide array of adverse health conditions, though for some, a cause-effect relationship is controversial. Canadian epidemiological studies have played an important role in the air pollution research area. Professor Villeneuve will review the contributions of many of these studies, and outline ongoing and future possibilities for research.

Panario-2011-1.jpgWednesday, November 13, 2013

The Cretaceous greenhouse planet: A visit to our polar regions

Claudia Schroder-Adams | Department of Earth Sciences


Arctic sea ice is melting at unprecedented rates leading to predictions of an Arctic Ocean that could be ice-free during the summer months in the not so distant future. During the geological past the world’s polar regions have experienced phases that were ice free and one of those was the Cretaceous Period marked by times of extreme greenhouse temperatures. During the presentation we will visit ancient settings of the Cretaceous polar sea as exposed in the Canadian High Arctic and terrestrial and marine settings of and around the Antarctic Peninsula. There, outcrops of Cretaceous sediments and their fossil content tell a story of rich ecosystems that were adapted to a much warmer earth.

Manthorpe-2011-1.jpgWednesday, November 27, 2013

Biophotonics: Shedding light on life

Sangeeta Murugkar | Department of Chemistry


Biophotonics is a rapidly emerging field arising from the convergence of optics and the life sciences. Light interacts with living systems at a molecular level, and generates very high resolution images. This optical imaging technology promises to revolutionize the field of medicine due to its comparatively lower cost and high sensitivity combined with minimal toxicity. It offers tremendous potential for early detection, diagnostics and treatment of disease. This talk will focus on past developments, current work and future trends in optical imaging techniques in biomedicine.

McFarlane-2011-1.jpgWednesday, December 11, 2013

How to stop a runaway train: Understanding spinal cord mechanisms of chronic pain

Michael Hildebrand | Department of Neuroscience


The inability to effectively treat and manage chronic pain is one of the major public health challenges facing Canada today. One in five Canadians experiences chronic pain, imposing huge personal and societal costs. The spinal cord is an essential component of the pain transmission pathway and is a major site of dysfunction in chronic pain syndromes. Professor Hildebrand will address how chronic pain is thought to be mediated at the molecular and cellular levels, including how taking a foot off the brake directly causes a stepping on the gas for spinal cord excitability, leading to chronic pain. He will then discuss some current and potential future pain therapeutics that work to stop this runaway train of chronic pain.

Holahan-2012-1.jpgWednesday, January 8, 2014

Ghrelin – The Defender of Fat: Implications in obesity treatment

Zack Patterson | Department of Neurosience

Obesity is considered a pandemic in Western countries such as Canada and the United States and it is regarded as one of the leading risk factors in the development of chronic disease and early death. Over the past several years, it has become obvious that chronic stress, such as workplace stress, is one environmental factor that can lead to detrimental health effects, including depression, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. The exact mechanisms underlying these metabolic changes are currently uncharacterized, however, recent evidence suggests that the gut hormone ghrelin is a key contributor to the physiological changes generated in response to chronic stress. Ghrelin is a gut-brain peptide that promotes appetite and the accumulation of body fat by encouraging the utilization of carbohydrates as a fuel source. Ghrelin’s influence on metabolism prevents the breakdown of body fat as an energy source, leading to increased body fat retention over time. We, and others, have shown that chronic stress leads to an increase in food intake, which ultimately promotes an increase in body weight and body fat. Interestingly, we have shown that blocking ghrelin signaling in the brain prevents stress induced overeating and subsequently prevents the increase in body weight and the accumulation of fat stores.

Wong-2012-1.jpgWednesday, January 22, 2014

Invisible Menaces: Contaminants of emerging environmental concern

William Willmore | Institute of Biochemistry

As a species, we have altered our planet’s environment in ways which may, at this point in time, may be irreversible. New industrial technologies are beneficial in that they advance our capabilities, but are detrimental in others in that they introduce new contaminants to our ecosystems which may ultimately be harmful to us. Dr. William Willmore of the Institute of Biochemistry will outline many of the “new” contaminants that are making it into our environment, based on new technologies, and highlight three examples of emerging contaminants that have impacted human populations. These include Bisphenol A (BPA), contaminants that affect Northern Canadian populations, and nanotechnology. This talk will outline the “good and the bad” of new technologies and what it means for human and animal health.

Dujmovic-2012-1.jpgWednesday, February 12, 2014

Coloring Points

Jit Bose | School of Computer Science


Consider the following puzzle: if someone colored each point in the plane either red or blue. Is it possible to find two points at distance 1 that receive the same color? Surprisingly, different ways of coloring points in the plane find applications as diverse as improving the reception on your cellular phone, drawing maps nicely or reducing the number of security cameras you need to provide complete coverage. We will review a few of these colorings and their applications.

Burns-2012-1.jpgWednesday, February 26, 2014

Planet Earth's Turbulent Adolescence: Mayhem, meltdowns and heavy metal

Nadine Wittig | Department of Earth Sciences

The foundation for our existence on planet Earth is rooted in the events taking place in the first 100 million years after formation of our solar system, during the meteorite-impact prone Hadean (hellish) eon. A superheated Fe-Ni metal core at our planets centre provides thermal energy driving magmatism, which generated the compositionally layered, rocky Earth of the present. This magmatism also created the oceans, the atmosphere and, crucially, may have sparked life, which is protected from adverse stellar radiation by the core’s magnetosphere. Given its importance, there are no direct samples available from the core. Nonetheless, geochemists and geophysicists have painstakingly assembled pivotal evidence that allows the reconstruction core and Moon formation in remarkable detail by using precious metal abundances and the hafnium - tungsten chronometer.

Hellemans-2012-1.jpgWednesday, March 12, 2014

Challenges in Paleontology: Resolving the amphibian origins debate

Hillary Maddin | Department of Earth Sciences

There is a general consensus among paleontologists regarding how the major groups of terrestrial animals alive today are related to one another and the various fossil lineages. One major exception is our modern amphibians (frogs, salamanders and caecilians) where debate between three drastically different hypotheses persists in the paleontology community. Dr. Hillary Maddin will discuss how her research on living and extinct amphibians is contributing to the resolution of this issue, as well as some of the broader implications, including skeletal evolution in general.

Lapointe-2012-1.jpgWednesday, March 26, 2014

Bugs on Bugs: Resistance to understanding

Mark Forbes | Department of Biology

Many “bugs” have their own “bugs”. More accurately, many insects are hosts to viral, bacterial, protozoan and arthropod parasites and pathogens. The study of insect parasites and pathogens underpins much of the research on bio-control of non-beneficial insects such as vectors of human diseases, but also provides opportunity for understanding factors promoting disease transmission and virulence, host specificity of parasite species, host resistance or tolerance to parasites, and numerous other general phenomena. In this talk, Professor Mark Forbes will introduce dragonflies and their arthropod and protozoan parasites. We know that there is considerable variation in susceptibility and resistance to parasites within and between related species of insects. What we are trying to understand is what factors account for this variation: that is, which individuals get parasitized; how costly are parasites to their insect hosts; and, why some individuals and species are resistant to same or similar parasites and others not so. Professor Forbes and his students think they have some answers to these fundamental questions.

Agil-2012-1.jpgWednesday, April 9, 2014

Extreme Volcanism Through Time: From the Sahara to the High Arctic and to other planets

Richard Ernst | Department of Earth Sciences

Imagine enough lava to cover the entirety of Canada (or the US) to a depth of hundreds of metres. Around the world and throughout Earth’s history such mega- volcanic events have regularly occurred. They have caused the breakup of continents and the extinction of many species due to extreme climate variations. They are also responsible for the formation of huge ore deposits, Carleton University Scientist-in-Residence, Dr. Richard Ernst, shares the story of these intense volcanic events both on the Earth and on other planets.

Gilchrist-2012-1.jpgWednesday, April 23, 2014

Cancer and Genetic Instability

Bruce McKay | Department of Biology

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell growth, invasion and other traits that are collectively known as the hallmarks of cancer. Normal cells acquire these neoplastic traits through the acquisition of mutations in key oncogenes and tumour suppressors. Genetic instability plays a prominent role in cancer. First, genetic instability increases the chance of accumulating cancer mutations. Many therapeutic approaches target the genetic instability of tumour cells. Unfortunately, the genetic heterogeneity found in genetically unstable tumours poses a challenge for cancer treatment. The various implications of genetic instability in carcinogenesis and cancer therapy will be discussed.