Speaker series features Mt. A scientists, artists, profs

A new speaker series is providing a forum for intellectual exchange among members of the Mount Allison community. Interdisciplinary Conversations brings Mt. A faculty from diverse disciplines together to give short, informal talks based on their research or teaching interests. The third talk in this series was held in the Owens Art Gallery on Thursday, Nov. 19 and featured professors of science, music and social science. The talks provide an opportunity for speakers to discuss how a single word, “energy,” relates to their discipline.
“The nice thing about it is that it’s faculty unplugged […] they’re talking about an aspect of energy, [of] their discipline in an excited, engaged way, and it kind of reflects their excitement, their thrill, that drove them to do a PhD on that in the first place,” said Eileen Herteis, director of the Purdy Crawford Teaching and Learning Centre (PCTLC) and one of the event’s organizers.
The idea for Interdisciplinary Conversations was conceived fol-lowing an event last March on interdisciplinarity organized by the PCTLC. Christl Verduyn, director of the Centre for Canadian Studies, said the event was so well received its organizers wanted to create an ongoing discussion of interdisciplinarity on campus. They sent out calls to faculty to frame talks around a single word, “energy,” to coincide with Mt. A’s Year of the Environment.
“We kind of imposed a fun aspect,” said Verduyn. “The idea was to come without notes to speak [about] this word from your disciplinary perspective.”
Vicki Meli, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, gave the first talk of the event. She spoke about energy as it relates to thermodynamics, which she said is her favourite topic in the upper-year thermodynamics class she teaches.
“I don’t have much opportunity to talk about thermodynamics in general conversation, so it gives me a chance to talk about my favourite concepts and connect them to other things,” said Meli.
To introduce her talk, Meli defined energy as the capacity to do work as it’s used in chemistry and physics. She said there are two caveats in using energy to do work: The energy can come from only natural process, and much of the energy used in doing work is lost as heat. Energy is also released from a system that goes from a disordered state to an ordered state, such as when a snowflake forms.
“The cost for this order, of forming a snowflake, is paid for when the crystal is formed,” said Meli. “This pays the universe that energy that can go toward increasing disorder in the rest of the universe, so you’re basically ‘slipping the universe a 20’ for something that’s ordered.”
The event also included talks by David Rogosin, an associate professor in the department of music, and James Devine, an assistant professor in the department of politics and international relations. Rogosin talked about how musicians can use energy to convey music in an individualized and artistic way, as well as how energy is used in the Japanese martial art aikido. Devine talked about how the recent lifting of Western sanctions on Iran may affect the country’s energy policy, especially as it relates to its oil industry.
Interdisciplinary Conversations will resume next semester, taking place every third Thursday of the month. Speakers from science departments include Amanda Cockshutt from the department of chemistry and biochemistry, David Fleming from the department of physics and Karen Crosby from the department of biology.
Herteis said she plans to continue the speaker series in the following academic year, and that a new word will be chosen according to its President’s Speakers Series topic.

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