Skip To Content

Canadian Museum of Nature tackles leading-edge science with new interactive series

By Rachel Hauraney on February 18, 2014

The pilot season of NatureTalks began last month, and continues until April.

Now let’s get one thing straight: this is not a lecture series.

“There are a lot of similar programs available in Ottawa, with it being a government and university town,” says program coordinator Cynthia Iburg. “We wanted to shake up the idea of a traditional lecture.”

Iburg came up with the idea for the series by looking at TED Talks and the international Cafe scientifique movement. TED Talks helps make information about science and technology accessible online, while the Cafe scientifique movement allows the audience, gathered in a cafe or pub, to participate in the lecture by asking questions, or giving their own observations on a topic.

Iburg also looked to George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, formerly the CBC show The Hour, for inspiration. “The show has a comfortable, yet iconic look,” she explains. “It provides thought-provoking interviews. I wanted to bring all of that to NatureTalks.”

The first talk in the series, regarding the de-extinction of animals, went smoothly, says Iburg. “It was a sell-out. The time just flew right by. The topic generated a lot of discussion. For example, if we de-extinct animals, could they come back as a food source, or a pharmaceutical?”

A NatureTalks event begins with a 20-minute, on-stage conversation between a museum scientist and a well-known broadcast journalist. Following the interview, the audience will be invited to participate in a discussion at a wine bar in the museum. The on-stage interview will be recorded, and will be posted on the museum’s Web site.

The next NatureTalks event takes place this Wednesday, February 19 at 7 pm and is entitled, Species Hybridization: Rethinking Extinction. Museum biologist and curator Kamal Khidas speaks with TFO journalist Fabienne l’Abbe on the topic. The presentation is in French.

Khidas is an ideal person to guide the audience through this talk. According to his biography on the museum’s Web site, he not only oversees almost 2 million vertebrate specimens from the museum’s collection, but is active in research, studying the biology and ecology of land mammals. He is currently researching the hybridization of bobcat and lynx in eastern Ontario.

“Some of the questions raised during (Khidas’) interview might be whether or not hybridization is natural,” says Iburg. “Are hybrids bigger, better species? Is the definition of a species even true anymore? What does this mean for the future of these animals?”

Two more NatureTalks events are scheduled to take place this spring. Because of the nature of the topics, these talks are for persons aged 16 years and older. Admission is free.

Seating for the series is limited. To receive an invitation, join the museum’s mailing list.