↑ Return to Previous Lectures

Meeting Summaries – 2013-2014

NSIS brochure on the events for 2013-2014.

October 7, 2013

Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Speaker: Dr. Mary Anne White
Department of Chemistry, Dalhousie University
Title: Sustainable Approaches to Energy Harvesting and Storage

Our current global consumption of energy is not sustainable. There are many approaches that can improve our situation, and research is an important aspect. However, an objective, quantitative view is required. In this talk, Dr. White will present some of her recent research results in two areas: thermoelectric materials for conversion of waste heat to useable power, and phase-change heat-storage materials for solar energy applications. She also will present a framework for sustainable approaches to materials research for energy harvesting and storage.

November 4, 2013 – DUAL SPEAKER EVENT
Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History

Speaker: Dr. David Burton
Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University
Title: The Nitrogen Problem

At the turn of the last century we discovered how to convert nitrogen contained in the air to a chemical form that could be used in the production of explosives and to fertilize plants. Both uses have had significant impacts on humanity. The production and use of nitrogen fertilizer has dramatically increased since the 1950’s and now equals in magnitude all natural sources of nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen from industrial fixation now feeds one half of our population. This dramatic increase in the amount of reactive nitrogen has had tremendous impacts on all ecosystems on earth. Nitrogen impacts on air, water and terrestrial ecosystems are increasingly severe but are seldom discussed in the media. The challenge for agriculture in the last century was the production of sufficient food to feed a growing population. The current challenge for agriculture is to not only continued increases in the quantity of food produced, but perhaps more importantly reduce impacts on the environment so that we may sustain the current levels of production. The presentation will discuss the “nitrogen problem” and current research designed to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use in agriculture and reduce impacts on air and water in Atlantic Canada.

Speaker: Dr. James P. Fawcett
Canada Research Chair in Molecular Biology of Brain Repair, Dalhousie University
Departments of Pharmacology and Surgery
Title: Biological Nano-motors

Biological nano-motors function in all living organisms, and are important for a wide range of functions including intracellular transport, cell division and cellular movement. Molecular nano-motors convert chemical energy, ATP, into mechanical work through enzymatic reactions. Many intracellular nano-motors have directionality to them enabling the transport of large organelles within a cell to the cell surface for example. There are a wide number of biological outcomes attributed to these molecular motors including determining how, for example, our hearts end up on the left side of our chest. Dr. Fawcett will discuss a number of different types of biological nano-motors, and how different motors allow cells and tissues to function. He will also discuss how defects in some of these motors lead to various disease states.

December 2, 2013

Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Speaker: Dr. Doug Staple
Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University
Title: World Energy Supply and the Future of Solar Power

Avoiding the environmental impact of fossil fuel use is a strong argument to search for alternative energy sources. Unfortunately, environmental issues are often politicized to the point where agreement is difficult. In this lecture, Dr. Staple will review the large number of economic, social, and strategic issues surrounding not only fossil fuels, but also nuclear and hydroelectric power. As an alternative we present solar power: the solar resource dwarfs the combined worldwide resources of fossil and nuclear fuels. He will discuss various approaches to solar power, and show how solar is rapidly closing the price-performance gap to conventional fuels. Finally, the speaker will present in simple terms some of my own research on solar power, showing how work at Dalhousie fits into the larger picture outlined above.

January 6, 2014

Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Speaker: Dr. Sara Iverson
Professor and Scientific Director of the Ocean Tracking Network
Department of Biology, Dalhousie University
Title: Energy Budgets in Marine Mammals: Tactics and Tricks

The overriding currency of all animal life is energy and all animals must exchange energy with their environment. Like other animals, marine mammals have evolved strategies of energy acquisition and use, but these strategies also experience trade-offs between energy allocated to body maintenance functions, activities (whether routine or exceptional), growth, and reproduction including successfully weaning offspring: all of which are central to understanding their life histories, individual and population fitness, and even ecosystem dynamics. Dr. Iverson will discuss this fascinating subject and its complexity, especially considering the huge diversity of marine mammals, where they live, the way they live, and perhaps most importantly how big they are.

February 3, 2014

Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Speaker: Dr. Christa Brosseau
Department of Chemistry, Saint Mary’s University
Title: Harvesting the Power of Light Energy: A New Tool for Art Conservation

Art conservation, restoration and authentication efforts rely on the accurate identification of artist’s materials. The ability to elucidate dyestuffs which have a natural or early synthetic origin is important as these pigments are often photosensitive, and their colors can fade rapidly if the artwork is not displayed properly. Current methods for pigment detection (i.e. HPLC) require large amounts of sample (~1mg). Given that most conservation samples come from rare and priceless works of art, such quantities are often not possible to obtain. Therefore, an optimal analytical technique for determining pigments in art specimens would be minimally invasive, sensitive and reproducible. Recently my research, in collaboration with Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago, has been exploring the use of Raman spectroscopy, specifically surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) as an analytical method for the detection of artist dyestuffs. SERS is ideally suited for this problem, as it enhances the Raman signal of the scatterer, and also quenches fluorescence, a common problem encountered with the normal Raman spectroscopy of many organic pigments. Recently Dr. Brosseau has explored two ad-hoc SERS methodologies for the detection of artist colorants. The first method couples thin layer chromatography (TLC) and SERS to aid in the detection of samples which contain more than one colorant. In cases where the sample size is exceedingly small, she has explored in situ non-extractive direct SERS using concentrated silver colloids. This work has been used to identify colorants present in various artist media, including textile fibers, pastels and watercolors.

March 3, 2014 – DUAL SPEAKER EVENT
Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History

Speaker: Dr. Jason Clyburne
Department of Chemistry, Saint Mary’s University
Title: Carbon Dioxide: Capture, Uses, and Challenges

Carbon dioxide is arguably one of the most important molecules industrially, biologically, and climatically. CO2 is a simple three atom molecule and its chemistry has become prominent due to rising concerns over global climate change. This small molecule has unique properties and its reactivity can be harnessed to facilitate its use in many applications, including day to day uses. Much effort is being channeled into identifying affordable CO2 capture and sequestration technologies, as well as potential conversion to value added products and fuels. This talk will explore the chemistry of carbon dioxide, address challenges for its capture, and identify promising avenues for large scale reuse.

Speaker: Dr. Randall Martin
Killam Professor
Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University
Title: Global Air Quality

Air pollution is believed to be the leading environmentally-related cause of premature mortality. However, ground-level pollution monitors remain sparse in many regions of the world. Satellite remote sensing offers a promising source of information about global air quality. Global models play a critical role in understanding these satellite observations. This talk will highlight recent advances in analyzing data from satellites and models to improve understanding of global air quality and its implications for public health.

April 7, 2014

Time: 7:30pm
Location: Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Speaker: Dr. Rob Thacker
Chair, Department of Astronomy & Physics, Saint Mary’s University
Title: Dark Energy in the Cosmos

The 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded for the discovery that the Universe appears destined to expand at ever faster rates. The driver of this expansion is the uniquely strange “Dark Energy” – an energy field that has truly bizarre properties including “negative pressure”. Figuring out the precise nature of Dark Energy is one of the greatest challenges facing physics and astronomy over the coming decades and will consume billions of research dollars. In this non-specialist presentation, Dr. Thacker will introduce some of the weird and fun physics behind Dark Energy, explain how we know about it today, and outline how we plan to uncover more details about it in the near future.

May 5, 2014

Time: 7:30pm
Location: Great Hall, University Club, Dalhousie University, 6259 Alumni Crescent, Halifax
Speaker: Dr. Louise Edwards
Lecturer and Research Scientist
Department of Astronomy, Yale University
Title: The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies

From your back yard, you can see one galaxy, our Milky Way. With binoculars you might just be able to pick out another – our partner in crime, Andromeda. In reality, there are millions of these systems in the observable universe. Each one being made up of dark matter, stars, gas, and dust. In turn, zooming out from a single galaxy, one may find it with a partner (like Andromeda and the Milky Way), or packed together in a group of many to thousands of galaxies. This talk asks the following question: What matters more for how a galaxy changes over time, its own stars, or the galaxies nearby? We will spend the hour gazing at the most recent images and videos from space-based telescopes like Hubble and Spitzer that will help us to address this question, and more.

Note: This lecture has been made possible through the generosity of the American Physical Society, Committee on Minorities in Physics, and the Department of Astronomy and Physics, Saint Mary’s University.