Physicists identify ‘shifting’ particle: Matter to anti-matter

A major physics lab in the United States has found a particle, far smaller than an atom, that switches itself back and forth between being a piece of matter and a piece of anti-matter 17 trillion times each second, reported CanWest Newservice March 28. It has taken 700 people in 20 countries, millions of dollars of equipment, vast amounts of energy and 20 years to find this. The experiment illustrates the difficulty of publicizing work in this abstract world of concepts unknown to most people – quarks, muons, particle accelerators and anti-matter itself. The finding at Fermilab is never going to affect your daily life. Fermilab found a particle called a “B-sub-s meson.” The work’s significance? “This measurement has confirmed the Standard Model,” said physicist Wendy Taylor, professor in York’s Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science & Engineering, one of the 700 who toiled on the experiment. The Standard Model is the basic theory that physics has used for 30-plus years to explain particle physics.

But, she added, finding the B-sub-s doesn’t go as far as many had hoped in explaining mysteries that still remain in physics, such as how things change between matter and anti-matter. “We know there’s physics beyond our current theory, and we’re trying to find it,” she said. Still, she finds the meson results “very cool.” Here’s her anti-matter lecture for non-scientists. “We have an idea what matter is, right? Something you can hold in your hand and touch and so on. “Anti-matter is very similar. It has mass. But it has the opposite properties of matter,” in particular, an electrical charge opposite to that of its “real” matter counterpart. “What’s interesting is that there isn’t much anti-matter out there. And if you watch ‘Star Trek’, you know that when a matter comes into contact with its own anti-matter particle, they annihilate, and the mass gets converted into energy by the E=mc² formula.” And now, a particle switches back and forth, because it contains a quark (even smaller than a meson) that itself goes between matter to anti-matter. Very few other particles also do this, but this is by far the fastest. “If it had been completely in total disagreement with the Standard Model, then of course that would be the most exciting thing,” the York physicist said. “We know there’s something out there. We want to find it. But we have to keep looking.”

Tory leader calls subway funding decision a ‘shell game’

PC Leader John Tory said the establishment of a $670-million public transit trust fund to extend the subway into the 905 region is clearly a shell game, reported the Toronto Sun March 28. The money should be budgeted in the year that construction takes place, he said. “I think it’s offensive. I think it’s totally politically motivated and I think it’s unacceptable,” Tory said. The extension of the Spadina subway to York University and Vaughan would cost $2 billion, and requires funding from Ottawa, Toronto and York Region. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the transit cash was put into a trust fund in last week’s budget to ensure it’s available when needed. “We think this a good investment,” Duncan said. “And now when the feds come to the table, if they come to the table with their money … the money’s out the door and ready to go to public transit. We’re looking forward to public transit construction going on in the GTA very soon.”

Improv artists perform at Music Gallery

For devotees of riskily rudderless, improvised sounds, the ensemble at the Music Gallery this weekend was practically a supergroup, reported The Globe and Mail March 24. The first, and rarest, visitor was California guitarist Henry Kaiser. Then there were two current members of Toronto veteran improvisation unit CCMC – celebrated multidisciplinary artists Michael Snow and John Oswald. They were joined by CCMC founder Casey Sokol, professor in York’s Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, who has inducted younger generations into the rites of improv in his classes at York University. (The acronym CCMC, by the way, has no fixed meaning, fittingly enough for a continually concocting musical crew.)

Killam winner started academic career at York

A York alumna who is now a philosophy professor at Dalhousie University has won a prestigious $100,000 award from the Canada Council for the Arts, reported The Daily News (Halifax) March 28. Susan Sherwin (BA ‘69), 58, a professor of philosophy and gender and women’s studies, won the Killam Prize in humanities, a career achievement award. Her work, among other things, has examined health and access to health care.  Sherwin graduated from York University with a bachelor’s degree before going on to study at Stanford and Case Western Reserve universities. She has been with Dalhousie since 1974.

Students enjoy unique musical performance by York a Capella group

The musical group Cadence – four men, four mikes, no instruments – entertained the students of Grand Valley and District public school on the morning of March 22, reported the Brampton Guardian March 28. The group from Toronto, which includes three York alumni, was made of tenors Dylan Bell (BFA ’95) and Ross Lynde (BFA ‘00), baritone Carl Berger (BFA ‘99) and bass Kevin Fox. They have been together as a group since 1998 and got together at York University. They inspired the students with their upbeat approach to their music. They performed a number of different genres including jazz, pop, hip-hop, classical, and rap. They were able to mimic several musical instruments using only their voices.

Bilingualism keeps the brain in shape

Two important benefits of French immersion and bilingualism have not received sufficient publicity, wrote Barry Welford in a letter to The Gazette (Montreal) March 28. The first is based on the work of Ellen Bialystok, professor in of York University. She has shown that children who grow up with more than one language develop better problem-solving skills and are better at multi-tasking. The second advantage has to do with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Serge Gauthier, director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Unit at the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging, has pointed out that using your brain more could delay the onset and the severity of this disease. Bialystok has shown that slowing down of cognitive processes is not as fast for bilingual people. The message is clear, said the writer. Being bilingual might be the best way to keep your brain in tip-top shape.

McGuinty Liberals more than callous

My health studies students cannot believe that a Canadian provincial government in the 21st century is capable of clawing back the child benefit supplement from families on social assistance, wrote Dennis Raphael, professor and undergraduate program director of York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies in a letter to the Toronto Star March 28. I trust most Ontarians would feel the same if they were aware of it. The fact that the Dalton McGuinty Liberals promised to eliminate the clawback during their election campaign and then backtracked makes them more than callous, it makes them hypocrites and liars.