Moderated by CBC Radio’s Bob McDonald, space-savvy presenters include: astrophysicist Rob Thacker, Scientific American Contributing Editor John Rennie and Rocket Scientist/Explorer Natalie Panek! Discussion topics at this year's event range from space robotics, to prospects for life in the solar system, to the psychological impacts and barriers of going into deep space.
Crowned a fan-favourite at the Dark Sky Festival last year, SPACEtalks combines Ted-talk style performances, lively debate and audience interaction through Q&A’s to spark lively discussions on all-things space, science and the universe!
Time to Meet the Panelists!
As a fixture in broadcasting for more than 30 years, Bob McDonald is loved by audiences across Canada for making complex scientific issues understandable, meaningful, and entertaining. As the moderator of this year’s SPACEtalks, Bob will jump-start the conversation with a presentation highlighting the psychological impacts and barriers of going into deep space.
Bob hosts CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks: an award-winning science program that is heard by 500,000 people each week. In addition to hosting Quirks & Quarks, he is a regular reporter for CBC TV’s The National, host of the children's series Head's Up, and is the author of numerous bestselling books.
As a writer, he has authored four bestselling science books, and contributed to numerous textbooks, magazines, and newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and many others. His latest book is “Canadian Space Walkers: Hadfield, MacLean and Williams Remember the Ultimate High Adventure.”
As a holder of eight honorary doctorates from Canadian Universities, McDonald has also been honoured for his outstanding contribution to the promotion of science within Canada through a variety of awards, including: the Micheal Smith Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Sir Sanford Fleming Medal from the Royal Canadian Institute, the McNeil Medal from The Royal Society of Canada, and a 2008 Gemini Award,
As a rocket scientist, adventurer, and advocate for women in technology, Natalie Panek seeks to explore the road less travelled while working towards her dream of becoming an astronaut. Natalie works on the next generation of Canadian space robotics and space exploration programs as a member of Technical Staff at MDA’s Robotics and Automation division.
Presenting an unrivalled passion for ideas that inspire audiences to embrace the learning process, she demands future innovators to make the most of themselves, commit to a goal, and develop intellectual fortitude. Natalie is on a mission to inspire the next generation of female game-changers, and is determined to encourage them to dive head-on into challenge and pursue careers in engineering and technology.
Natalie has had some extraordinary experiences that have shaped her dreams of becoming an astronaut, including internships at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and Ames Research Center, where she worked on a mission to Mars.
At age 20, she was the first female driver of the University of Calgary’s inaugural solar-powered vehicle, which raced up from Texas to Calgary. With degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Natalie has also co-authored papers on Microgravity Combustion and On-orbit Satellite Servicing. Her love of space and aviation led her to obtain a private pilot’s license to fly a single-engine aircraft. The Financial Post described Natalie as “a vocal advocate for women in technology”.
She is a technology contributor for The Next Women Business Magazine and was featured on the editorial site Women You Should Know as a STEM Rock Star who is revolutionizing how we think about women in tech.
Natalie is also both a mentor and program adviser for Cybermentor, through the University of Calgary.
Currently, John Rennie is deputy editor of the science magazine Quanta, where he oversees its biology coverage. Best known for his 15 years as editor-in-chief of Scientific American, Rennie’s 2002 article, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense,” is one of the most read and downloaded articles in the history of ScientificAmerican.com. During his tenure, the magazine also won two National Magazine Awards for single-topic issues.
Since 2009, he has been an adjunct instructor in the graduate Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University, and he is a member of the faculty of the Beakerhead Science Communication program. In 2000, Rennie received the Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science from the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. In 2003, the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies honoured him with its Navigator Award for distinguished service in support of national science and technology policy.
In 2013 Rennie was the host and creator of the TV series “Hacking The Planet” on The Weather Channel. His dozens of other television appearances over the years include “How the Earth Made Man” and “Clash of the Cavemen” on the History Channel, Discovery’s “Apocalypse How”, Science Channel’s “Spaces Deepest Secrets”, and the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum”.
Dr. Rob Thacker features weekly on CBC and other radio and television stations across the country, often engaging in scientific topics surrounding the public sphere. His trademark infectious enthusiasm and talent for explaining complex subjects in straightforward and engaging way have made him a hit with audiences of all ages.
Rob is a world renowned expert in computational astrophysics, specifically the formation and evolution of galaxies, and has played leading roles in a series of ground-breaking computational achievements that have featured in the forefront Science and Nature publications. In recognition of this work he’s given invited talks around the world, has been awarded a Canada Research Chair, and was chosen by Canada’s astronomy community to lead the creation of the 5-year national astronomy and astrophysics research plan, which sets the priorities and programmes for the 800 people directly involved in astronomy research in Canada.
Unlike many of his astrophysicist colleagues, Rob had a prior career in merchant banking as part of JP Morgan’s derivatives trading group. Through this experience, he took a wider view of science, authoring studies on transferrable skills in science and technology for the federal government as well as co-authoring a textbook: “The Science Student’s Success Guide.”
For all his expertise in astrophysics, Rob is equally qualified and inspired to speak to the scientific process, ultimately helping people understand the seemingly simple question: “What is science?”
Aside from the hundreds of interviews he’s given over the last decade and helping host a science talk-radio show that quadrupled the weekend market share of Halifax’s News 95.7, he is most proud of contributing to the education of dozens of truly exceptional students. In recognition of these remarkable efforts both in science and its promotion, he was awarded the Nova Scotia Science Champion Award in 2015.
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