What if Wednesdays - Free public lectures, twice monthly

The University of Canterbury holds free public lectures on campus, twice a month on Wednesdays from 7.00pm.

The What if Wednesdays (WIW) public lecture series is returning for 2015. This year the series will be held twice a month with interesting topics and speakers from the University of Canterbury. You can register your interest by entering your details here..

Should you wish to revisit any of the WIW lectures from 2015, 2014 or 2013, you can view them via our YouTube channel.

Upcoming Lectures

27 May

What if... we all drove electric vehicles?

Dr Allan Miller, Director Electric Power Engineering Centre

Transport is a large contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and most of these emissions are from light passenger vehicles. If we all drove electric vehicles, powered with renewable energy, we could reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly. However today most New Zealanders drive internal combustion engine cars and not all of our electricity generation is from renewable sources, which raises questions around whether we could convert our vehicle fleet to electric vehicles and whether this will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other side of the argument, electric vehicles are readily available today. They’re becoming more affordable, and New Zealand has plenty of wind and geothermal renewable generation planned. This talk will look at the history of electric vehicles and their technology, and consider the impact on our electricity power system if we all drove electric vehicles. It will also touch on the environmental impacts for New Zealand and other countries from converting to electric vehicles, first-hand experience of owning an electric vehicle, and the need for skills and training in New Zealand to cope with the rise of new technologies in the electricity sector, which includes electric vehicles.

Dr Miller is the Director of the Electric Power Engineering Centre (EPECentre), a research centre that aims to promote and support the excellence in education and research of electric power engineering. He is also the Director of the GREEN Grid research programme, which is looking at integrating renewables and other new technology into the grid, and aspects of the ‘smart grid’. As Director of both the EPECentre and GREEN Grid, Dr Miller has a particular interest in new technologies, such as electric vehicles and photovoltaic solar power, the impact they will have on the electrical power system, and the need for training engineers to manage the power system and the transition to these new technologies. Allan holds a PhD and BE (Hons) in electrical and electronic engineering, and is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (SMIEEE) and a member of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (MIPENZ).

Register now!

10 June

What if... Darwin had persevered with maths?

Distinguished Professor Mike Steel, Director of Biomathematics Research Centre, School of Mathematics and Statistics.  

  • Why does DNA sometimes tell a different evolutionary story to fossils?
  • Why do some of our genes places us closer to gorilla than to chimp?
  • Does everyone alive today share at least one single ancestor from 3000BC?
  • Why did Darwin not like maths?

In the 155 years since Darwin’s Origin of Species, biologists have developed sophisticated ways to uncover and study the hidden shared ancestry of all life from genetic data. While Darwin was able to formulate his ideas without using mathematics, he later wrote how he regretted not having studied that subject further. Mathematics has since become an essential tool that allows biologists to tease apart evolutionary signal from noise and bias in data, and to build reliable phylogenetic trees and networks. Biologists use these trees widely: for example, to classify new species, trace human migrations, and to help predict next year’s influenza strain.   
In this talk, Professor Steel will provide an overview of how ideas from maths have become central to the study and visualising of evolution.

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24 June

What if... Nutrition could treat mental illness?

Presenter: Professor Julia Rucklidge, Department of Psychology, College of Science

Despite the advent of medications and other therapies over the last 50 years, the rates of mental illness have been on the rise rather than a decline. Over the last decade, scientists have been uncovering an uncomfortable truth: What we eat is affecting our mental health. In this talk, Prof Rucklidge will discuss the data that shows an alarming picture of food choices serving as risk factors to all kinds of psychiatric problems; she will introduce the recent paradigm shift of using nutrients to treat these challenges, reviewing the evidence to date. The talk will challenge our current treatment regime for mental disorders and suggest one alternative course of action. This talk is back due to popular demand; for those who have seen it before, Prof Rucklidge will provide updated research and new angles to the topic.

Julia is a Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she did her undergraduate training in neurobiology at McGill University in Montreal. She then completed a Master’s and PhD at the University of Calgary in clinical psychology where she studied the psychological profiles of women with ADHD. She went on to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to complete a two year post-doctoral fellowship investigating gender differences in ADHD adolescents. In 2000, she joined the Department of Psychology where she teaches child psychology in the Clinical Psychology Programme and more recently, introduced the topic of Mental Health and Nutrition into the wider psychology programme. Her interests in nutrition and mental illness grew out of her own research showing poor outcomes for children with significant psychiatric illness despite receiving conventional treatments for their conditions. In the last decade, she has been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients in the expression of mental illness, specifically ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, anxiety and stress and PTSD associated with the Canterbury earthquakes. Julia has over 75 peer-reviewed studies and is passionate about helping people find alternative treatments to medications for their psychiatric symptoms. Her current research interests can be found at: http://www.psyc.canterbury.ac.nz/people/rucklidge.shtml

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8 July

What if... the centralisation of services stifles innovation?

Tony Mortensen

22 July

What if... plastic was not used in facial scrubs?

Dr Sally Gaw

12 August

What if... arts only made us appreciate life more?

Professor Jonathan Le Cocq

26 August

What if... super computers saved lives?

Professor Tim David

9 September

What if... buying a house became more affordable?

Tim Nees

23 September

What if... we could make Christchurch the smartest city in the best world?

Dr Malcolm Campbell

7 October

What if... we could predict ground shaking in future major earthquakes?

Associate Professor Brendon Bradley

21 October

What if... we could detect breast cancer without xrays or pain?

Professor Geoff Chase