2004 - 2005

Prof. Chris Stringer: "The Origin of Our Species"

When Sep 23, 2004
from 08:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Where Togo Salmon Hall (TSH) Room 120
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Chris Stringer

Prof. Chris Stringer
Natural History Museum, London, UK; Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor

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Over the last fifteen years, the origin of our species, Homo sapiens, has become the dominant research question in public and scientific debate about human evolution. Originally involving only the fossil record, the debate has now widened to include considerations of archaeology and genetics, with the latter field making an increasingly significant impact. In this talk I will outline how the debate has developed, review current ideas, and consider the potential for future research. While it seems clear that modern humans had a recent African origin, it is still uncertain whether "Out of Africa" tells the whole story.

The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project
The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain research project, a five-year programme funded by the Leverhulme Trust for just over #1.2 million, began in October 2001, and is investigating the timing and nature of human occupation of the British Isles during the Quaternary. The project brings together a range of specialists, including archaeologists, palaeontologists, geomorphologists, stratigraphers, sedimentologists and isotope analysts from British universities and national museums. The central purpose of the programme is to provide a detailed settlement history of Britain over at least a 500,000 year period, revealing aspects of the technology and behaviour of its Pleistocene inhabitants and exploring how and why these changed over time, reconstructing the environments in which they lived and the resources that these provided, and documenting the animals that shared their landscape. By taking this broad sweep in time within a single sub-region of Europe, it is hoped to identify patterns of human behaviour, technology, habitat preferences and landscape use, against the backdrop of frequent ice-advance, sea-level change and the effects of recurrent isolation from mainland Europe. The project has identified seven principal research topics, each focusing on a major episode of this time period and each with its own set of specific research questions. Together, these will form a coherent chronological framework for understanding the ancient human occupation of Britain. The seven key research areas stretch from the nature and timing of the first occupation of Britain, more than 500,000 years ago, through to human recolonisation after the last glacial maximum, about 15,000 years ago. The results of the research are being made available at different levels. Detailed research and site reports will be published as papers in academic journals, and more generalised information will appear in the media and popular publications, and on the project?s website http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted_sites/ahob. An overview of the results is planned as an academic book at the end of the project to coincide with a major conference in 2006, and there will also be a popular book.

Speaker backgroundChris Stringer is the Head of the Human Origins Programme at the Natural History Musuem in London, U.K. and Fellow of the Royal Society. His early research concentrated on Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe.He has been closely involved in the development of the Out of Africa theory of modern human origins and collaborates with a number of archaeologists, dating specialists and geneticists in attempting to reconstruct the evolution of modern humans. He has directed or co-directed excavations at Pleistocene sites in England, Wales and Gibraltar and is currently directing the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) - a 5 year project to reconstruct the pattern of the earliest human colonisation of England and Wales. Professor Stringer has won many awards and was the Millenium Distinguished Lecturer in 2000. His many articles include a recent book on human evolution, to appear in 2004.


Dr. Marc Garneau: "Finding First Light - Investigating the Origin of the Universe"

When Oct 21, 2004
from 12:30 PM to 02:30 PM
Where McMaster University Student Centre, CIBC Hall Room 319
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Marc Garneau

Dr. Marc Garneau
President of the Canadian Space Agency and Canada's First Astronaut

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The spectacular images beamed back by scientific instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope have long fascinated the public with their mysterious, exotic beauty. These postcards from deep space provide astronomers with key clues in their quest to glean answers to the question of how galaxies and their stars and planets first formed. Canada is proud to be a partner in the construction of-as well as the science that flows from-NASA's successor to Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2011. Join Marc Garneau for a discussion of how Canadian astronomers are peering into the distant past by studying the first stars to illuminate the dark universe, and how space science and exploration is helping us gain a greater understanding of our origins, as well as our destiny.

Speaker backgroundCurrently President of the Canadian Space Agency, Marc Garneau was one of six Canadian astronauts selected in December 1983. He became the first Canadian astronaut to fly in space as a Payload Specialist on Shuttle Mission 41-G in October 1984. A veteran of three space flights (STS-41G in 1984, STS-77 in 1996 and STS-97 in 2000),Marc Garneau has logged over 677 hours in space.

Marc Garneau received his early education in Quebec City and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec and in London, England.He completed his Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, England, in 1973. He also holds Honourary Doctorates from a number of Canadian universities. He was promoted Companion of the Order of Canada in 2003, having been appointed as an Officer in 1984.


Prof. Donald Clayton: "The Origin of the Atoms of our World"

When Nov 04, 2004
from 08:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Where Togo Salmon Hall (TSH) Room 120
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Donald Clayton

Prof. Donald Clayton

Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Clemson University

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The atoms of our world did not always exist. They were created over a very long time span. The relative numbers of different chemical atoms are not the same from place to place nor from time to time in the universe. This talk will explain the evidence supporting these conclusions. Its key is the relative abundances of differing chemical atoms observed in different places. The atoms of our daily lives, the calcium of our bones or the iron in our blood hemoglobin, were created by thermonuclear reactors near the centers of hundreds of millions of stars that had evolved and died before our earth and solar system were born. Some stellar reactors became runaways that exploded violently, disrupting their stars. Today we find evidence of this in stones that fall to earth containing exotic matter from those long-ago and far-away stars. I show how the origin of our atoms became a scientific question rather than one of philosophy or religion. Many find implications for their philosophical view of our existence.

Speaker backgroundDonald Clayton received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1962, under the supervision of W.A. Fowler (1983 Nobel Laureate in Physics). For 26 years he was Professor of Space Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Houston. In 1989 he joined Clemson University, and brought to the University the status of Co-Investigator on NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. By studying gamma rays from the exploding star Supernova 1987A, Clayton confirmed a prediction about the origin of the chemical elements that he had published three decades earlier. He continues to conduct research at Clemson within NASA's programs for Cosmochemistry and Origins of Solar Systems. Clayton was one of the pioneering founders of the theory of the origin of the chemical elements in stars. His 1968 textbook Principles of Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis has become a classic. He has received many honours and awards in his career, among which are an A.P. Sloan Fellowship in 1966-68, the 1992 NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and the 1992 NASA Public Service Group Achievement Award. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2000.

Prof. Lawrence Krauss: "An Atom from Hamilton - a Cosmic Odyssey"

When Feb 10, 2005
from 08:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Where McMaster Centre for Learning & Discovery Room 1305
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Lawrence Krauss

Prof. Lawrence Krauss
Case Western Reserve University

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We are all Star Children. Every atom in our bodies was once inside the fiery core of some long-dead star. But the story of atoms begins even earlier, in the earliest instants of the Big Bang. When we look at a something old, like a rock, we tend to forget that the rock may have only been around for several million, or at most a few billion years. The real protagonists in the mystery of creation, however, are our atoms. They, or rather their components, have been around since the dawn of time, and only they have any hope of immortality. I will describe the story of one atom, in a glass of water on the stage in Hamilton, from the beginning of the Universe to its possible end. The story is full of drama, excitement, as well as mystery, and will lead us to explore ideas from the origin of all matter in the universe, to the future of life and intelligence.

Speaker backgroundProf. Lawrence M. Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist whose research interests include the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, particularly in topics such as the early universe, the nature of dark matter, and general relativity.

He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1982), did postdoctoral research at Harvard, and has been a professor at Yale University. He is the Chair of the Physics Dept. at Case Western Reserve University and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Prof. Krauss is also a renowned public lecturer and popularizer of science, most famously for his book on "The Physics of Star Trek". He recently won the Oerstead Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers for his contributions to physics teaching. His exciting public lecturers are not to be missed.


Dr. Christopher P. McKay: "What is life, and how do we search for it on other worlds?"

When May 25, 2005
from 08:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Where McMaster Centre for Learning & Discovery Room 1305
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Christopher P. McKay

Dr. Christopher P. McKay
NASA Astrobiology Institute

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Watch the video recording of this lecture.

One of the main goals of astrobiology is the search for another type of life in our solar system. The planet Mars and Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, are the most likely targets for this search. With only one example of life on Earth it is not too surprising that we lack a precise definition of life or a clear strategy for how to search for it on other worlds. Studies of the limits of life and life in extreme environments may help us develop a search strategy for life on other worlds. Fossils are not enough. We will want to determine if life on Mars or Europa was a separate genesis from life on Earth. For this determination we need to access intact alien life; possibly frozen in the deep old permafrost of Mars or the icy surface of Europa.

Speaker backgroundChris received his Ph.D. in AstroGeophysics from the University of Colorado in 1982 and has been a research scientist with the NASA Ames Research Center since that time. His current research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He is also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human settlements. Chris has been involved with polar research since 1980, traveling to the Antarctic dry valleys and to the Siberian and Canadian Arctic to conduct research in these Mars-like environments. He is a co-investigator on the Huygens probe to Titan (2005) and the Mars Phoenix mission (2007).