AUPAC 2019

Guest Lecturers

Guest Lecturers

Rob Thacker

Dr. Rob Thacker is a Professor of Astrophysics at Saint Mary's University and the current President of Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). In 2017 he completed his two allowed terms as a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) at Saint Mary's,  having previously been an adjunct professor at Queen's University where he also held a National Fellowship of the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA). He also held postdoctoral positions at McMaster University and the University of California, Berkeley.

His research is focused primarily on using simulations to aid our understanding of the galaxy formation process, with a specific interest in the hydrodynamic modelling of `feedback' processes. He's now studying this in the context of mixing in the interstellar medium using a new generation of Lagrangian algorithms. During his career he's led or contributed to a number of ground-breaking numerical projects, including landmark simulations by the Virgo Consortium of researchers.

In addition to his research, Dr Thacker has a strong commitment to professional service within the astronomy community and public outreach. In 2010 he acted as the Vice-Chair of the Long Range Plan for Canadian astronomy, the single most important planning exercise conducted by the Canadian astronomy community, and in 2015 was appointed to lead the Mid-Term Review of the Long Range Plan. His outreach experience includes hosting talk radio science shows and since 2012 he has conducted over 420 media interviews. In recognition of these efforts he was awarded the 2018 Qilak Award for Astronomy Communication by the CASCA.


Kris Poduska

Kris Poduska is an experimental condensed matter physicist based at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where she has been on the faculty in the Department of Physics & Physical Oceanography since 2003. Originally from the United States, Dr. Poduska holds an undergraduate degree in physics from Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota, USA), and a Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University. Her research is a blend between physics and chemistry, focusing on understanding structural and physical property relations in inorganic materials. The applications of the work span from technologically relevant semiconductors, to medically interesting biomaterials, to ancient archaeological materials.

Shark skin, butterfly wings, and lotus leaves: the physics of water on rough surfaces

Self-cleaning walls and anti-fogging windows sound futuristic, but this future is already here! This talk will describe the physics behind why the roughness of a surface changes the way water interacts with it. Will a drop of water bounce, roll, or stick? Will ice crystals form? The answers involve fascinating physics that focuses on controlling the balance between energies associated with solid, liquid, gas interfaces at both micrometer-range and nanometer-range length scales. Along the way, you’ll also see how this physics has been informed by knowledge gained from studying intricate water-repellent surfaces from the natural world, including shark skin, butterfly wings, and lotus leaves. 


Richard Karsten

Dr. Richard Karsten is a Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Acadia University. He has a PhD in applied Mathematics from the University of Alberta, and did a Post Doc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining Acadia in 2001. He has 25 years of experience in research focused on fluid dynamics and oceanography, with expertise in mathematical models, hydrodynamic stability, and numerical simulation. Since 2007, Dr. Karsten and his colleagues at Acadia have been working on mathematical and numerical models of tides and tidal l power in the Bay of Fundy. Their work is the basis for the estimates of extractable energy by turbines from the major tidal passages of the Bay of Fundy. Dr. Karsten has led or contributed to several large multi-university projects that have researched tidal energy,  with regard to the physical resources,  engineering challenges, environmental impacts and financial viability.


Michael Woodside is a Professor of Physics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, where he is the iCORE Chair in Biophysics. He obtained Physics Specialist and Music Major degrees from the University of Toronto, followed by a PhD in Physics from UC Berkeley, where he studied electron transport in nanostructures with scanned probe microscopy. He trained in biophysics during a postdoc in the Biology Department at Stanford University before moving to Edmonton in 2006. His research centres on  how single biomolecules like proteins, DNA, and RNA self-assemble into complex structures, focusing on four themes: the fundamental physics of folding, novel experimental methods and analytical tools, folding in RNA as it relates to gene regulation in pathogens, and protein misfolding that causes disease. His work has led to new methods for measuring the energy landscapes that govern folding, the first direct observation of misfolding in the proteins that cause "mad-cow" disease and ALS, and new approaches to discovering drugs that prevent misfolding disease and determining how they work at the molecular level. Dr. Woodside is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow.

The Physics of Folding: Watching Structures Self-assemble in Single Biological Molecules using Laser Tweezers

Biological molecules like proteins, DNA, and RNA perform a great variety of functions linked intimately to their structures. The self-assembly (“folding”) of these structures is a critical process, because molecules won't function correctly if the wrong structure forms, leading sometimes to disease. It has been impossible to observe the microscopic structural changes during folding because of the inability to monitor single molecules with near-atomic precision and μs-scale time resolution. Only indirect characterisation of the energy barriers defining the folding mechanism was thus possible. We have now directly observed single molecules during the fleeting moments when they change structure by using laser tweezers. Applying tension to the ends of a molecule, we induce the structure to unravel and refold, monitoring the length change that occurs when the unfolded parts are stretched under tension. By measuring the properties of the "transition paths" between the folded and unfolded states, we test the fundamental physical theory of folding and gain new insight into folding mechanisms. The distribution of times required to cross the transition paths and velocities along the paths prove that folding is fundamentally a random walk, a diffusive search for the correct structure. For the first time, the unstable transition states dominating the dynamics can be visualised, via brief pauses during the transition paths, and the constant transient explorations of 'incorrect' structures expected theoretically can be detected. This work provides the first fully experimental validation of the basic theory of folding. 

Michael Woodside