Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday May 31st, 7:30pm at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender). Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Steven Heine, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC. The title of his talk is:

DNA is Not Destiny: How Essences Distort how we Think about Genes

People the world over are essentialist thinkers – they are attracted to the idea that hidden essences make things as they are. And because genetic concepts remind people of essences, they tend to think of genes in ways similar to essences. That is, people tend to think about genetic causes as immutable, deterministic, homogenous, discrete, and natural.  Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialist biases lead people to think differently about sex, race, crime, eugenics, and disease whenever these are described in genetic terms. Moreover, Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialistic biases make people vulnerable to the sensationalist hype that has emerged with the genomic revolution and access to direct-to-consumer genotyping services.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday April 26th, 7:30pm at Big Rock Brewery. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Navin Ramankutty, a Professor of Global Food Security and Sustainability at UBC. The title of his talk is:

A Framework for Understanding Why Food Security Discussions are Contentious

There is a contentious debate regarding the best approach to achieving food security in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner. Some advocate for new technological systems, such as genetic modification or vertical farming, while others argue for organic agricuture or local food systems. Still others argue that agriculture does not need a revolution and that we simply need to improve current farming practices. Even the overall objectives are unclear, with some arguing that we need to double food production by 2050 while others suggest that we already have enough food on this planet to feed 10 billion. In this talk, I will use an assessment framework to explore the available evidence supporting or opposing the various claims about the most sustainable way to farm on our planet. The broad assessment offers some insights on why we argue about food security.


Our sincerest apologies, but we have just received word that The Railway Club is shutting it’s doors for good, effective immediately. We will do our best to re-schedule the talk in the near future once we have found a new venue.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday March 29th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Jerilynn Prior.  Prior is Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of British Columbia, Founder and Scientific Director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR), Director of the BC Center of the Canadian Multicenter Osteoporosis Study (CaMOS), and a past President of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. The title of her talk is:

Is Perimenopause Estrogen Deficiency?
Sorting engrained misinformation about women’s midlife reproductive transition

43 years old with teenagers a full-time executive director of a not for profit is not sleeping, she wakes soaked a couple of times a night, not every night but especially around the time her period comes. As it does frequently—it is heavy, even flooding. Her sexual interest is virtually gone and she feels dry when she tries.
Her family doctor offered her The Pill. When she took it she got very sore breasts, ankle swelling and high blood pressure. Her brain feels fuzzy, she’s getting migraines, gaining weight and just can’t cope. . . .
What’s going on? Does she need estrogen “replacement”? If yes, why when she’s still getting flow? Does The Pill work for other women? What do we know about the what, why, how long and how to help symptomatic perimenopausal women?

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday February 23rd, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Elizabeth A. Croft. The title of her talk is:

Up Close and Personal with Human-Robot Collaboration

Advances in robot control, sensing and intelligence are rapidly expanding the potential for close-proximity human-robot collaborative work. In many different contexts, from manufacturing assembly to home care settings, a robot’s potential strength, precision and process knowledge can productively complement human perception, dexterity and intelligence to produce a highly coupled, coactive, human-robot team. Such interactions, however, require task-appropriate communication cues that allow each party to quickly share intentions and expectations around the task. These basic communication cues allow dyads, human-human or human-robot, to successfully and robustly pass objects, share spaces, avoid collisions and take turns – some of the basic building blocks of good, safe, and friendly collaboration regardless of one’s humanity. In this talk we will discuss approaches to identifying, characterizing, and implementing communicative cues and validating their impact in human-robot interaction scenarios.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday January 26th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speakers for the evening will be Dr. Millan Patel and Dr. Shirin Kalyan.  The title of their talk is:

Helping Science to Serve Patients

Science in general and biotechnology in particular are auto-catalytic. That is, they catalyze their own evolution and so generate breakthroughs at an exponentially increasing rate. The experience of patients is not exponentially getting better, however. This talk, with a medical geneticist and an immunologist who believe science can deliver far more for patients, will focus on structural and cultural impediments in our system and ways they and others have developed to either lower or leapfrog the barriers. We hope to engage the audience in a highly interactive discussion to share thoughts and perspectives on this important issue.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday November 24th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Mark Jellinek.  The title of his talk is:

The Formation and Breakup of Earth’s Supercontinents and the Remarkable Link to Earth’s Climate and the Rise of Complex Life

Earth history is marked by the intermittent formation and breakup of “supercontinents”, where all the land mass is organized much like a completed jigsaw puzzle centered at the equator or pole of the planet. Such events disrupt the mantle convective motions that cool our planet, affecting the volcanic and weathering processes that maintain Earth’s remarkably hospitable climate, in turn. In this talk I will explore how the last two supercontinental cycles impelled Earth into profoundly different climate extremes: a ~150 million year long cold period involving protracted global glaciations beginning about 800 million years ago and a ~100 million year long period of extreme warming beginning about 170 million years ago. One of the most provocative features of the last period of global glaciation is the rapid emergence of complex, multicellular animals about 650 million years ago. Why global glaciation might stimulate such an evolutionary bifurcation is, however, unclear. Predictable environmental stresses related to effects of the formation and breakup of the suprecontinent Rodinia on ocean chemistry and Earth’s surface climate may play a crucial and unexpected role that I will discuss.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday October 27th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Shawn Bullock.  The title of his talk is:

The History of Noise: Perspectives from Physics and Engineering

The word “noise” is often synonymous with “nuisance,” which implies something to be avoided as much as possible. We label blaring sirens, the space between stations on the radio dial and the din of a busy street as “noise.” Is noise simply a sound we don’t like? We will consider the evolution of how scientists and engineers have thought about noise, beginning in the 19th-century and continuing to the present day. We will explore the idea of noise both as a social construction and as a technological necessity. We’ll also touch on critical developments in the study of sound, the history of physics and engineering, and the development of communications technology.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday September 29th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speakers for the evening will be Dr. Matthew Ramer and Dr. John Kramer.  The title of their talk is:

Knowing Pains: How can we study pain to better treat it?

Pain is arguably the most useful of sensations.  It is nature’s way of telling us to stop doing whatever it is we are doing in order to prevent damage, and to protect injured body parts during the healing process.  In the absence of pain (in certain congenital conditions and in advanced diabetes, for example), the consequence can be loss of limbs and even of life.

There are circumstances, however, when pain serves no useful purpose:  it persists when the injury has healed or occurs in the absence of any frank tissue damage, and is inappropriate in context (previously innocuous stimuli become painful) and magnitude (mildly painful stimuli become excruciating).  This is called neuropathic pain and is incredibly difficult to treat because it is unresponsive to all of the drugs we use to treat normal, useful (“acute”) pain.

Ultimately, our research is aimed at finding new ways to minimise suffering from neuropathic pain.  Prerequisites to this goal include understanding how normal and neuropathic pain are encoded and perceived by the nervous system, and accurately measuring and quantifying pain so that we can draw reasonable conclusions about whether or not a particular treatment is effective.  We will discuss some historical and current ideas of how pain is transmitted from body to brain, and emphasize that the pain “channel” is not hard-wired, but like the process of learning, it is plastic, labile, and subject to “top-down” control.  We will also tackle the contentious issue of pain measurement in the clinic and laboratory.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday July 28th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Wayne Maddison.  The title of his talk is:

Spiders, Sex, and the Echoes of History

Jumping spiders are remarkable little aliens: they pull their stomachs through their brains when they shed their skins, they jump using blood pressure, their elaborate mating dances rival those of birds of paradise and MTV, and they use inflatable syringes to mate.  Their tiny eyes, built like scanners, can resolve better than a cat’s. And yet, like many other small organisms, they are largely unknown, even to scientists. More that 5000 species of jumping spiders have been found and described, but many more live unknown to us in the world’s forests, deserts, prairies, mountains, and beaches. I have spent the last few decades traveling to exotic places in search of the species still undiscovered.

We biologists who seek to find these undiscovered species, and to place them on the evolutionary tree of life, play a role not usually told in the story of science.  We are building knowledge of particulars — entities and their histories — rather than general laws.  But, our discoveries have become a map of biodiversity that reveals general laws, and explanations for life’s features, including why spiders pull their stomachs through their brains.  And, this evolutionary history is itself one of the most romantic discoveries ever made.  Imagine, a wormlike species once split into two species whose fates were so different: one evolving into you (along with many other animals), the other into the spider hopping on your house.

But, don’t worry.  Most of the talk won’t be about philosophy of science, but about these wonderful little gems that hunt and pounce like cats.  You might even change your mind about spiders.

Dear Café Scientifiquers, our next café will happen on Tuesday June 30th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Simone Castellarin.  The title of his talk is:

Chemical Makeup of Grapes: How Grape Variety and Climate Determine Wine Quality

Winemaking technologies and styles are critical to transforming high quality grapes into premium wines, but the quality of wine is really a process that begins in the vineyard.

Wine flavor and aroma are determined by a complex matrix of compounds accumulated in grapes during their development.  This matrix includes organic acids, tannins, anthocyanins (the pigments of red grapes), and aromatics, as well as a large amount of sugars that are transformed into ethanol during fermentation. Even though  the genetic background of grape varieties has a strong imprint on the chemical makeup of grapes, environmental factors  (e.g., temperature, sunlight, water availability) interact with genes to  determine the basis for the wide spectrum of wines we can find in the store shelves.

In this talk, we will explore the effects that the complex relationships between grape varieties and environmental factors have on the composition of the fruit and quality of wines. In addition, we will touch on how the study of grapevine genomes and their interaction with climate may boost the ability of viticulturists to understand the underlying biology that determines the complexity of wines, and the tools that they can employ to improve fruit composition and wine quality.

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