Feed your inner scientist at the Brownbag Research Seminars

Each year, a diverse group of topics is assembled by organizers of York’s Brownbag Research Seminars. Sponsored by the interdisciplinary Science & Technology Studies Program, the series offers up a diet of weekly seminars on relevant topics in the field of science and technology. The seminars take place on Tuesdays, from 12:20 to 2pm, and are held in 112 Stong College.

This semester, the series offers plenty of food for thought. On Jan. 29, Professor Grace Shen, Division of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, presents her seminar titled, "A Glacial Reception: Li Siguang Quaternary Geology and Scientific Identity in China". Shen’s seminar will tell the story of Li Siguang (1889-1971), a geologist and founder of geological mechanics, who was born in Huanggang, Hubei Province, China. Specifically, Shen will address Siguang’s controversial theory of quaternary glaciation in central China. The fortunes of his theory have turned on matters of not only evidence and expertise, but also politics and performance. By tracing the trajectory of the theory from the Chinese Republican period (1911-1949) to the Communist era, Shen will frame scientific identity in China as a negotiation between establishing science in China and establishing China.

Left: Li Siguang

Professor Edward Jones-Imohtep of the Division of Natural Sciences in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering takes the podium on Feb. 19 with his seminar titled, "Icons and Electronics". During the late 1950s, a wide-ranging debate erupted over the seemingly innocuous question of how transistors – the new revolutionary electronic devices – should be drawn. In this seminar, Jones-Imohtep will explore what was at stake in that mid-century debate over visual culture. He will argue that the symbols used to represent transistors in the late 1950s were actually crucial sites for articulating the meaning of the devices and their relationship to the wider populations of electronic entities. In doing so, the emphasis in the history of electronics shifts from the material to visual culture.

Brock University history Professor Maureen Lux pays a visit to York on March 4 to present her seminar titled, "Sites of Exclusion: ‘Indian’ Hospitals in the Canadian West, 1920s–1950s". Lux will examine racially-segregated hospitals in Canada. In August 1946, the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton was officially opened by Governor General Field Marshall Viscount Alexander of Tunis. It was high state drama intended to signal the arrival of modern and effective health care for Aboriginal people in Canada and part of a larger expansion of institutional care for them. By 1960, there were 22 racially-segregated hospitals in Canada. The hospital’s opening was a very public demonstration of the state’s commitment to protect all Canadians by segregating and isolating those who threatened the public’s health.

On March 18, a seminar titled, "An Exploration of the Role of Publication-related Biases in Ecology", will be presented by Professor Christopher Lortie, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science & Engineering. Lortie’s seminar looks at scientific journals and scholarly publishing. Progress in a scientific discipline is normally achieved through publication and dissemination of knowledge. The number of publications and their citation frequency are also widely used for academic evaluation of individual researchers, departments and universities. Any bias in publication and dissemination of scientific content can potentially affect the development of a field in terms of what kind of information is available for synthesis, who is successfully employed, and where funding is allocated. Different attributes of the publication and dissemination process in ecology will be explored including: characteristics of the study (number of hypotheses, effect size, support for main hypothesis), attributes of the publication itself (merit, length, number and gender of authors), and attributes of the journal (reputation, impact factor, circulation).

David Pantalony, curator of instruments at the Canada Science & Technology Museum in Ottawa, will visit York on April 1 to deliver a seminar on the history of medical imaging in Canada. His seminar titled, "A History of Medical Imaging in Canada: Making an Exhibition at the Canada Science & Technology Museum", will provide an overview of the main ideas and artifacts in an upcoming exhibition on medical imaging that will be mounted by the museum. In his seminar, Pantalony will discuss how health care systems around the world have become increasingly reliant on imaging technologies for diagnosis and intervention. In Canada, the current debate about access to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines stems largely from this development. The goal of the upcoming exhibit will be to educate the public about this rapidly expanding field of medical technology and to use history and our collections to provide a critical, Canadian perspective. The talk will include a discussion of current trends in museology.

The Brownbag Research Seminars will wrap up the winter term with a presentation on April 8 by York Professor Jan Hadlaw, Department of Design, Faculty of Fine Arts. Titled, "Canadian Nationalism, Modern Design, and Technological Pragmatism: The Case of the 1967 Contempra Telephone", the seminar will offer insight into the Contempra phone (right), which is considered the first telephone designed and manufactured in Canada. When it was introduced to the public in 1967 – Canada’s centennial year – it was seen as evidence of Canada’s coming of age, its emergence as a modern nation in its own right. Eager to no longer be seen a political colony of Britain and keen to resist economic colonization by the United States, nationalists sought to find a place for Canada on the international stage and in the international marketplace. Hadlaw’s talk addresses cultural, political, and economic conditions in discussing the design and promotion of the Contempra telephone. 

York’s Brownbag Research Seminars are free and open to the public. The series is supported in part by the Office of the Dean of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, York’s Vice-President Academic, the Service Bursary Program and the York University Bookstores.

For more information, contact the series’ convener, Professor Kenton Kroker, Division of Natural Science, Faculty of Science & Engineering, at ext. 30120 or e-mail kkroker@yorku.ca