Featured speakers

List of featured speakers:

Scott Tremaine

Scott Tremaine completed his BSc. at McMaster University in 1971, then received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1975. He held postdoctoral positions at the California Institute of Technology and Cambridge University, and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. From 1981 to 1985 he was in the Department of Physics at MIT as an Associate Professor.

He moved in 1985 to the University of Toronto, where he was a Professor in the Departments of Physics and Astronomy and the first Director of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics until 1996. He moved then back to Princeton, to the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, where he is a Professor and Chair.

Prof. Tremaine has made seminal contributions to the study of solar system and galactic dynamics. For example, with CalTech astronomer Peter Goldriech, he predicted in 1979 that the newly discovered rings of Uranus were held on place by "sheparding" moons, then unobserved. This controversial theory was substantiated in 1986 by observations from the Voyager Two spacecraft. He is also co-author with James Binney of the leading monograph on galactic dynamics.


The stability of the solar system

The present configuration of the planets in our solar system is presumably relatively stable over timescales of order a few billion orbits---otherwise we would not be here---but the long-term orbital behaviour of the planets is still an important and incompletely understood problem, despite three centuries of study starting with Newton. Understanding this problem is central to many issues of planetary dynamics. For example: Why are there no small bodies orbiting between the planets except in the asteroid belt? Why are the planets so regularly spaced (Bode's law)? How has the Earth's orbit evolved throughout its history? We now have direct N-body integrations of the planetary orbits for 100 Myr, together with approximate analyses valid for much longer times. These show that the solar system is a chaotic dynamical system and suggest that it is in a state of marginal stability, slowly evolving toward more stable states by ejecting planets.

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Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West was born in Taunton, Somerset (Great Britain). He studied at Cambridge University, where he received his BA in 1961. He obtained his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966. He has been on the faculty of Cornell, Harvard and Stanford, and he was a visiting professor and fellow at Imperial College and Oxford University. Geoffrey West is a senior fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he led the High Energy Physics Theory group, and he is currently a distinguished research professor at the Santa Fe Institute and a research professor of biology at the University of New Mexico.

He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and was an APS Centenary Speaker. The numerous scientist series he has been a lecturer in include the Ulam Lecturer in 2001, and he recently received the Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America. He is the author of several books and the editor of "Comments in Theoretical Biology".

His interests range from physics to biology and include topics such as the universal nature of biological phenomena and the search for fundamental quantitative laws, including questions of aging and mortality, cancer, sleep, the evolutionary molecular clock, ecosystem dynamics, and the thermodynamics of the evolutionary process. His current research focuses on the origin and implications of universal scaling laws in biology from molecules, genes, and cells up to organisms and ecosystems.

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Raymond Laflamme
University of Waterloo and Perimeter Institute

Raymond Laflamme is a leading expert in the very different fields of quantum information theory and experiments and quantum computing. He was born in Quebec City and got his Bachelor degree in Physics from Laval University. He then moved to Cambridge, England, where he did his PhD, working on questions in quantum gravity and cosmology, in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) under the direction of the great Stephen Hawking. He is supposedly responsible, with one of his fellow colleague, for having changed Hawking's mind on the reversal of the direction of time in a contracting Universe (see his book "A brief history of time"). After, he spend some time at UBC as a post-doctoral fellow before moving back to Cambridge in 1990 as a research fellow. He finally settled down for 9 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He arrived there as a funded post-doctoral fellow and became in 1994 an Oppenheimer Fellow. He moved to Waterloo in 2001 where he shares his time between Perimeter Institute and University of Waterloo where he, along with Michele Mosca, started the Institute for Quantum Computing. He holds the Canadian Research Council Chair in Quantum Information and Perimeter Institute. At present, his main research concerns are:

  • Theoretical methods for error control in quantum devices
  • Use of quantum computer to simulate quantum systems
  • Experimental implementation of small quantum information processing devices
  • Investigations of optical systems including linear elements, single photons source and dete ctors for quantum information processing devices.


Advances in computing are revolutionizing our world. Present day computers advance at a rapid pace toward the barrier defined by the laws of quantum physics. The quantum computation program short-circuits that constraint by exploiting the quantum laws to advantage rather than regarding them as obstacles. Quantum computer accepts any superposition of its inputs as an input, and processes the components simultaneously, performing a sophisticated interference experiment of classical inputs. This "quantum parallelism" allows one to explore exponentially many trial solutions with relatively modest means, and to select the correct one. This has a particularly dramatic effect on factoring of large integers, which is at the core of the present day encryption strategies (public key) used in diplomatic communication, and (increasingly) in business. As demonstrated some years ago, quantum computers could yield the most commonly used encryption protocol obsolete. Since then, it was also realized that quantum computation can lead to breakthroughs elsewhere, including simulations of quantum systems, implementation of novel encryption strategies (quantum cryptography), as well as more mundane applications such as sorting. I will describe recent work done in quantum computation, in particular the discovery and implementation of methods to make quantum information robust against corruption, both in theory and experiments. I will end with speculations about the field.

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Cécile Fradin

Cécile Fradin has received her university degree in Physics from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, and her Ph.D. in Soft Condensed Matter from the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique in Saclay (France). She then turned to biophysics for her post-doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot (Israel). In 2001, she obtained an assistant professor position at McMaster University, where she works for both the Physics and Astronomy and the Biochemistry departments. Her research focuses on the dynamics of single molecules inside biological systems using different optical tools.


Observing the behavior of single molecules in cells

Summary: In recent years, considerable amounts of efforts have been directed towards trying to observe the behavior of single macromolecules inside living cells. Although some improvements w ill still be necessary, such an achievement is certainly not just a dream anymore. I will prese nt in this talk a technique (fluorescence correlation spectroscopy) that allows us to study the dynamics of single molecules, and in particular their diffusion properties and the rate at whi ch they can change conformation. We study this properties to understand how the cellular medium (which is very different from an ideal solution since it is crowded with all kinds of obstacle s) influence them. Diffusion for example is not only considerably slowed down by the presence o f obstacles but its very nature is modified. More surprisingly, the folding of proteins is also affected by the presence of obstacles in solution: we observe that molecules have a larger ten dency to fold in crowded media. I will describe our understanding of these phenomena and the im portance they may have in cell biology.

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Peter Grütter


Nanotechnology: The New Frontier

In 1959, Richard Feynman gave a lecture entitled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" (reprinted in Engineering and Science, Feb. 1960, p. 22-36). Feynman suggested a variety of experiments and technologies that might be achieved at very small scales. This is an area that is currently getting a lot of hype. Some recent suggestions sound like science fiction, although we are not yet seeing articles titled "Honey, I Shrunk the Factory". Nevertheless, terrific advances have been and are being made. In this talk, I will introduce some of the scientific and technological challenges at the nanoscale frontier. In particular, I will concentrate on scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), which is one of the techniques that allows us not only to look at individual atoms, but also to manipulate them. This allows us to place single atoms and molecules at selected positions, to build structures atom by atom. STM has thus become a critical tool for making and exploring structures on an atomic scale. The lessons these experiments teach us extend beyond the new physics in small dimensions to encompass the general process of learning from biology and chemistry. By then going beyond what is observed in the natural world to deliberate engineering on an atomic scale, we are, indeed, beginning to move into the Room at the Bottom.

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