Students push the limits at York’s Science Olympics

York University wasn’t equipped for the teenage boy who brought a “lethal weapon” to one of its past Science Olympics, reported The Ottawa Citizen May 5. Water-propelled rockets, the University expected those. But not this masterpiece of machined aluminum with a needle-sharp point, created that way to streamline it. The distraught boy was politely asked not to fire it. Wouldn’t want to skewer the onlookers. “People can get a little bit too competitive,” said York’s Keith Aldridge, professor in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering.

On Friday, York was to again welcome more than 1,000 high-school students to its annual Olympics – not a traditional science fair, Aldridge noted, but a day of games in which teams all have to attack the same half-dozen problems. Build a “lander” that lets an egg fall without breaking; figure out how to get ethanol fuel from plants; make tea using water boiled entirely by mechanical means – such as rubbing sticks together. The tea must pass a taste test. No tepid swills, please. As always, though, the veteran geophysics professor has learned that students will push the limits in the oddest ways.

One year, in a drive to build a super-efficient yo-yo, some teams designed versions that jettisoned parts of themselves, shedding weight and shooting back up above the platform where they had begun their original fall. “That’s typical of the type of ingenuity that comes out,” Aldridge says, and his voice has a clear note of admiration for the rule-benders. So how do you heat water by muscle power alone? One team bought a Canadian Tire generator and wired it to a stationary bicycle to produce electricity. “They put their heaviest guy on it and he pedaled for about 20 minutes and heated the water a quarter of a degree,” Aldridge recalls. “They’d wired it up incorrectly.” It’s a great way to learn about scientific inquiry in a way that can be judged more objectively than a science fair where everyone does a different project, the professor said.

York computer science building is green from the ground up

York’s Computer Science Building rated a mention in a review of the first volume in a series of books called The Ecological Engineer (Ecotone Publishing), by reviewer Jane Gadd in The Globe and Mail May 5. The book features the builders of the CSB, KEEN Engineering, a Canadian mechanical consulting company that has been progressively greening the designs of its buildings across North America for the past two decades. In 2002, KEEN made the computer science laboratory at Toronto’s York University the most advanced cold-climate green building in North America. The building’s orientation, angled glazing and louvers, saw-tooth design and two atriums enable it to make the optimum use of solar light and heat, and natural ventilation.

Osgoode student joins Native protest in Caledonia

It’s 4pm inside the Six Nations occupation camp in Caledonia, more than 60 days since Natives began their protest over a disputed 135-acre parcel of land at the southern edge of town, reported The Expositor (Brantford) May 5. On an unusually warm spring day, the sun shines brightly as about 15 people gather for a crash course in protest first aid. Sarah Dover, a 36-year-old York University law student, is among those in attendance. A non-Native, Dover has been at the protest site for two weeks. “I came because I feel their fight is an important one,” Dover said during an interview. “I feel they are right and the nature of their resistance is appropriate. This is not my fight in the sense that these are my people or historic lands…but it is my government that has declared war on these people.”

Osgoode graduate is now a chief associate judge in BC

The Kelowna Chamber will get a rare chance to hear from a high-ranking BC judge next week at the group’s monthly meeting, reported the Kelowna Capital News May 3. Chief associate judge and York alumnus Jim Threlfall (LLB ‘72) of the Provincial Court of British Columbia will talk about the judiciary, court reform and sentencing at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on May 8. Threlfall was appointed to the bench in 1991.

 On air

  • Terry Maley, professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Arts, commented on a recent meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on CTV’s “National News” May 4.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, was interviewed about the federal budget on ROB-TV’s “Stars and Dogs” program, May 2.