Scientist dedicates award to ailing mentor

When Doug Crawford stands up to accept his prize as Canada’s top young scientist of the year, he’ll dedicate it to the man who taught him about the brain, first as a scientist, and now as a patient, reported The Ottawa Citizen on the morning of April 19. Tutis Vilis of the University of Western Ontario was Crawford’s PhD supervisor in neurology. And he has suffered neurological damage that has put him in a wheelchair and reduced his vision. “We researchers also have friends and family who are affected by illness, and when things like that happen it really hits home and shows us why we’re doing this sort of thing,” Crawford said.

Crawford is a neuroscientist at York University and associate director of the York Centre for Vision Research. On Tuesday, noted the Citizen, he was to take home the $15,000 Steacie Prize (see Headline News), awarded by the National Research Council once a year in Canada to a top scientist or engineer aged 40 or under. (Crawford is 41, but was 40 when he applied.)

He studies vision and how people use sight to navigate a complex world. His research looks at how people with brain damage from strokes or accidents see and understand their surroundings. He also looks at people with healthy brains: “What my lab’s trying to do now is to understand how your brain builds up those representations of space, so that when you look at something and look away, how is it that you remember what it is and where it is, relative to everything else? If we understand how [the brain] works, it stands to reason we’ll be able to fix it better when it breaks.”

The CanWest News Service article also appeared in the National Post and Calgary’s DOSE.

University frosh ill-prepared

A lot of graduating students will likely do less well as they switch from high school to the increased workload of university, according to York history Prof. William Wicken, reported the Halifax Herald April 19. The Halifax father of two, who spends the school year in Ontario, has a daughter finishing Grade 12 in Nova Scotia. As a parent, he’s disappointed with the quality of Nova Scotia’s public school system and feels Canadian first-year students in general are ill-prepared for classes he teaches at York. “They haven’t got the basic skills,” Wicken said of his own students. He says high school graduates need a better command of English grammar, sentence structure and spelling, “so that when they get to university, they can actually write an essay, make an argument and excel.” Wicken says many high school teachers inflate their pupils’ marks. “Most students, they come into first year and they’re used to getting 80s and 90s (in high school). But students who are getting 80s and 90s, their first assignments, when I hand them back they’re getting Cs,” he said.

Ideas hop for hip man in new literacy-boosting book

Dalton Higgins, who has hosted his own urban music TV show on the digital channel BPM and has written a book about former MuchMusic personality Master T. Higgins, has been writing about hip hop for so long he’s become one of the pre-eminent authorities on the subject here in Canada, reported The Toronto Sun April 18. Higgins has now released a new book he co-authored with Greg Smith titled Hip Hop. The book is part of the Boldprint series of educational books from educators David Booth, Joan Green and Jack Booth. The books in the series are designed for reluctant or struggling readers. “It’s like a literacy project to encourage young people to read more,” said Higgin, who graduated from York in 1995 with a BA in English. “I’m hoping that they will use Hip Hop as a gateway to literacy.”

Music grad trades flashy keyboard for simple piano

Mark Bond grew up in the ’80s when “piano” was a bad word in pop music and everything electronic was in vogue, reported the Kingston Whig Standard April 16. And even though the 1999 York music grad was classically trained, the Belleville native embraced the era as a musician, until one day he had a startling revelation. “I was doing so much button pushing, I’d lost my piano chops,” Bond said. “So I ditched all my keyboards and went hardcore into the piano again.” Bond began composing at the piano and the result was Outlines, a 10-song collection released last year. He performs music from the album and other original compositions Friday at the Grand Theatre. He’s also been a teacher at the Kingston School of Music for the last five years.

On air

  • Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, professor of Japanese and Chinese history in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, provided a Japanese perspective of the anti-Japan protests in China, on CBC Radio’s “The Current” April 18.
  • Paul Delaney, senior lecturer in astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, talked about Albert Einstein 50 years since the physicist’s death and 100 years since he published his theory on relativity, on a CBC Radio item aired on regional programs across Canada April 18.
  • York student Asha Ratteray discussed recent changes to Canada’s immigration system, on Barrie’s “VR Land News” April 18.