The Foundation Lectures

RCI joined forces with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canada’s major funder of science and engineering in universities, to establish the Foundation Lectures, marking the foundation of the RCI in 1849. The Lectures are delivered by the winners of:

The NSERC Herzberg Medal presented for a lifetime of extraordinary accomplishment in research in science or engineering


The NSERC John C. Polanyi Award, honouring an individual or team whose Canadian-based research has led to a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering.

Fall, 2014

Foundation_fall2014Getting “Function” Right: Why Genomics Needs Philosophy – Ryerson University

W. Ford Doolittle, Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax NS

Recipient of NSERC’s Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

The ENCODE project, a lavishly funded international effort to map functions onto the human genome, recently declared the notion of “junk DNA” to be bunk. Comparative genomics says otherwise, and suggests that many researchers are seriously confused about the very nature of biology.

Co-sponsored by The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC/CRSGN) and hosted by Ryerson University

Thursday, November 27, 7:30 pm, Doors open at 7:00 pm


Friday, July 18, 2014 – live in Vancouver. Watch the webcast HERE

What’s the Matter with Antimatter? Exploring the Mysteries of the Antiworld

Unveiling-the-Universe-Antimatter_930x500_logosDr. Makoto Fujiwara, TRIUMF, leader of the ALPHA-Canada team, winners of the 2013 NSERC John C. Polanyi Prize.

Science World and TRIUMF are delighted to partner with the Royal Canadian Institute and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to bring their Foundation Lecture series to Vancouver for the first time, at Science World at TELUS World of Science on Friday, July 18.

Join Dr. Makoto Fujiwara as he discusses their ground-breaking experimental work on antimatter. Dr. Fujiwara will probe the many facets of this mysterious entity and illustrate why antimatter really matters when investigating our most fundamental laws of physics and the evolution of the universe.

This lecture is part of the Unveiling the Universe series, which has fascinated thousands of local science lovers since 2012.

The lecture will be webcast live in HD HERE

Tweet comments & questions: #UTUtalks

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Photosynthetic Machines:  Why nature Is astounding


Gregory D. Scholes, Ph.D., D.J. LeRoy Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto,   Recipient of the 2011 John C. Polanyi Award

Photosynthetic solar energy conversion occurs on an immense scale across the earth, influencing our biosphere from climate to oceanic food webs. These are amazing solar cells! Fronds in kelp forests, crustose coralline algae and purple bacteria have shown interesting properties relevant these energy transfer phenomena. Underpinning these examples are some fascinating chemical physics, where experiments and theories reveal the mechanisms involved in the ultrafast energy transfer processes of light harvesting. This talk will introduce the incredible physical processes that initiate photosynthesis in the first picoseconds after light is absorbed.

Co-sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and hosted by Ryerson University.

NOTE: This lecture will be given at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, 55 Dundas St. W., in Lecture Hall TRS-1-067

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Global Warming “Futures”: How Reliable are the Model Projections?

W. Richard Peltier, B.S., M.Sc., Ph.D., Department of Physics,
U of T, Recipient of the 2011 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

The problem of global climate warming remains an unmet challenge to the ability of the international community to respond. Warming due to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, caused primarily by human influence due to fossil fuel burning, is undeniable. Denial of the accuracy of the scientific projections of plausible futures is most often based upon claims that such projections depend upon overly complex computer models. I will discuss the physics embodied in these models and the tests that have been performed to establish their validity. These tests include not only verification of past projections by comparing them to subsequent observations, but also tests against episodes of extreme climate change that are known to have occurred in the past. I will also discuss what the models suggest will be the climate future in the next century of the Great Lakes Basin region of North America, a landscape inhabited by 35 million persons.

NOTE: This lecture was given at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, 55 Dundas St. W., in Lecture Hall TRS-1-067

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Does the Brain Recognize Shapes?


Geoffrey Hinton, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., Professor, Department of Computer Science, U of T, Recipient of NSERC’s Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Recognizing a familiar shape is a difficult computational problem because foreground clutter may occlude large parts of the shape and the intensities of the pixels that remain are determined as much by the unknown viewpoint and lighting as by the shape. The brain performs this difficult computation very effectively by learning to extract multiple layers of features from the image. I will describe two different ways of learning features and I will show that a new model that uses the precise times of neural spikes to represent viewpoint information and can explain a number of phenomena in mental imagery.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quantum Magic for Everyone


Gilles Brassard, Ph.D., Professor, University of Montreal, Recipient of the NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Quantum mechanics has the potential to spark an unprecedented revolution in information processing. Whereas quantum computers could trigger a complete meltdown of the schemes currently used over the Internet to protect the security of electronic commerce, quantum cryptography allows us to fight back, making it possible to communicate with unconditional confidentiality.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catching Electrons in Attoseconds


Paul Corkum, O.C., B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., University of Ottawa and National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, Recipient of the 2009 NSERC Herzberg Award

The lecture explains how short intense laser pulses can control electrons and how these electrons are used to create even shorter pulses — the world’s shortest – with duration measured in attoseconds (1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000 of a second, a billionth of a billionth of a second). With this very brief flash, it is possible to “photograph” a molecule’s electrons and the position of its atoms. The audience will leave understanding that we are on the verge of making movies of bonds breaking and atoms rearranging during a chemical reaction – the very essence of chemistry.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Werewolves, Vampires and New Treatments of Disease

David Dolphin, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., F.R.S., O.C., C.E.O., B.C. Innovation Council, Recipient of the 2005 NSERC Herzberg Award
The porphyrias are a class of genetic diseases which are associated with the malfunctioning of heme, the red pigment of blood. Heme uses eight separate enzymatic steps in its biosynthesis and various porphyrias are known to arise from the improper functioning of one or more of the enzymatic steps. When porphyins, the precursors of heme, are combined with light, they can cause terrible devastation to the skin; these diseases are thought to account for the legends of werewolves and vampires in the Middle Ages. But harnessing the destructive power of porphyrins and light allows for the treatment of several human diseases — including cancer and age related macular degeneration — using a new medical modality known as photodynamic therapy.
Co-sponsored by NSERC and by MaRS Discovery District