Organic chemists are modern-day alchemists hiding in a laboratory among elixirs, alembics and concoctions. Give them a bit of coal, a little air and some fire, and they can make you a beautiful molecule. From the accidental discovery of synthetic dyes and sweeteners to the mass production of antibiotics and biodegradable polymers, organic chemists are continually changing the word around us. We’ll learn about the daily life of a chemist and how curiosity and passion are an integral part of laboratory work.
Fall lecture series
Age of Options: Scientific Discovery
In January 1975, SFU’s Seniors Program, as it was then known, launched Age of Options—a half-hour show on Cable 10 Television created to extend university adult education opportunities more widely throughout the community. The first five programs featured five SFU scientists who discussed their work and areas of study. Almost 45 years later, join us for five in-person lectures that explore today’s world of scientific discovery.
Mysteries in Medicine: Understanding the Science
These days we’re well versed in medical jargon. We easily use terms like “cholesterol” or “colonoscopy” that were virtually unknown 50 years ago. Yet the fundamentals of medicine, which we so rarely discuss, elude us. Even though our tools and technologies have changed, scientific discoveries from over 100 years ago are really the bedrock of medicine today. We will examine how early chemists, mathematicians, immunologists and other thinkers grappled with the mysteries of the body, from respiration and metabolism to hormones and infection. In reviewing the original science, we will illuminate today’s medical practice and question the dogma that’s often substituted for science.
Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash.
Why Preserve Biodiversity?
Canada was a leader of the landmark 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Since then, many countries have passed laws to protect endangered species. But why? Even as many species are lost globally, the richness of local species may not change much because successful species from elsewhere move in. Also, since most species are naturally rare, their loss on a local scale may have little discernibile effect. Despite our gut feeling, the scientific arguments for actively preserving endangered species remain fragile. We will consider various arguments in light of the many conflicting facts.
Watermelon Snow: A Story from the Nexus of Science, Resistance and Love
Will the last snow on Earth be red? Join a cell biologist on this exploration of our relationship with energy, from life’s origins to humans’ use of fossil fuels and beyond. We’ll examine the paleo data behind various climate models and look at current climate changes in a geological context.
We’ll experience the science in tandem with the instructor’s personal journey from dawning awareness to eco-anxiety to recovery. Part science, part memoir, part travel adventure, at its core this talk is an argument for an ethics of climate action.
Imagination and Discovery: The Life of a Research Mathematician
What is a research mathematician? How is it even possible to do research in mathematics? We’ll examine these questions through the mathematics and philosophy of Jacques Hadamard (1865–1963). Hadamard’s model of mathematical invention (preparation, incubation, illumination, verification) will guide our exploration of mathematical discovery. We’ll learn that a research mathematician is a combination of problem-solver, nitpicker, big-picture thinker, experimental scientist, aesthetician and dreamer.
How will I learn?
- Discussion (may vary from class to class)
- Audio and/or video clips
Textbooks and learning materials
Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class.