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 or by telephone at 613-520-4388.

Fall 2018

Wednesday, September 12

Can Humans Hibernate?  Maybe….


Jeff Smith
Department of Chemistry

Jeff Smith-cropped.jpg

Growing up in Canada, most people are familiar with the concept of hibernation.  We see squirrels and groundhogs fatten up in the fall and disappear for the winter months only to appear when the snow melts looking thin and hungry. The concept of putting humans into a state of hibernation or suspended animation is explored in many science fiction books and movies, but is it realistic?  The recent discovery that some primates hibernate strongly suggests that humans may also have the biochemical machinery to hibernate but that it goes unused for unknown reasons.  We have been studying the way that cell membranes adapt to low temperatures in cold-tolerant animals for a few years and have gained some interesting insights.  Through a better understanding of what happens on a cellular level during hibernation could we one day enable humans to hibernate? …maybe.

Wednesday, September 26

Lessons from Earth’s Geological History for Modern Climate Change

RErnst.jpgRichard Ernst
Department of Earth Sciences


Earth’s history is characterized by dramatic climate changes, including global warming (Hothouse events), global cooling (Icehouse events, i.e. Snowball Earths or regional glaciations), anoxia (low oxygen events in the ocean), stepwise build of Earth’s oxygen level, acid rain/ocean acidification, and mercury poisoning. In some cases, the environmental changes were severe enough to cause mass extinctions (where a majority of life was wiped out).  The majority of mass extinctions are linked to giant volcanic events, and, in at least one case, to meteorite impact (that wiped out the dinosaurs).  Climatic shifts can also be due to orbital cyclicity, changes in planetary albedo (surface brightness), the plate tectonics cycle, mountain building, changes in solar flux and the length of day, and biological evolution.
Climate change can also be studied on other planets in our solar system and also extra-solar planets.  For instance, Venus had runaway greenhouse effects due to massive volcanism and resulting CO2 release that increased the global surface temperatures to 450C.  On Earth, the weathering of mafic and ultramafic rocks, acts as a powerful sink for atmospheric CO2, and thus suggests a role for these rock types in modern carbon sequestration efforts.
The most important lesson from Earth’s geological history is that Earth’s climate is continually changing, sometimes dramatically, with potentially catastrophic effects on life, and therefore, the risk to humanity is real.

Wednesday, October 10

Kill Cancer, Save the Rest!  Advancing Cancer Radiation Therapy With Physics


Rowan Thomson
Department of Physics


Cancer affects many Canadians with 1 in 2 people expected to develop the disease in their life.  More than half of cancer patients undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment: 1 in 4 Canadians will undergo radiation therapy in their lives.  Advancing radiation therapy has the potential to positively impact many people!

This presentation will focus on innovation and research in medical physics that is advancing cancer radiation therapy.  Collaborations between physicists and radiation oncologists are revealing ways to improve current cancer treatments.  Prospective treatment approaches, including radiation therapy involving nanodevices, have the potential to enhance tumour cell kill while reducing healthy tissue radiation exposure.

Wednesday, November 14

Children and Online Safety


Sonia Chiasson
School of Computer Science


In this talk, I will present research that we have conducted over the last few years about children and online safety.  We will first discuss parent and children’s concerns and mental models relating to online privacy and security threats.  Next, we will explore several educational tools we created to help children understand the risks and learn how to protect themselves. We have created and user tested an interactive e-book for 6-8 year olds, as well as online comics and a game for tweens to teach critical thinking skills relating to online behaviours.

Wednesday, November 28

Vaccine Research and Development:  Challenges and Successes!


Erling Rud
Department of Health Sciences


Since Edward Jenner’s discovery that giving a boy cowpox could protect people from the ravages of Smallpox, over 200 years ago, we as a species have benefited greatly by the protection provided by mass vaccinations. However, the research and development efforts required to develop each new vaccine is costly both in shear effort and financial investment. In the 1950s Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine against polio. Some of you may remember friends and neighbours who spent time in Iron lungs to survive the impact of Polio virus infections. Since that time there has been a steady increase in the number of vaccines being produced. Even this Summer, we have heard of the development of an Hemophilus influenzae type A, or simply Hia vaccine by our own National Research Council to protect the Inuit in the North. My talk will focus on the variety of steps required to get a vaccine research idea into a country wide immunization program and focus on some of my own research efforts in the HIV vaccine field.