New space lab will help make Canada more competitive

A space machine simulates rocket launches and bone-jarring vibrations up to 50 times the force of gravity. A vacuum chamber reproduces space-like temperatures, fluctuating between extremes of -140 C and 140 C. Welcome to York University, the newest hotbed for space studies, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 12. Wednesday, the University unveiled its space lab – known as CRESS Space Instrumentation Laboratory. “We need to make Canada more competitive in the space market,” said Ben Quine, professor in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering. In an ambitious attempt to widen the range of their space program, York researchers have assembled state of the art equipment that’s unique to Canada to help design, develop and test space hardware and prototypes. “The industry is booming, but we want to sustain that development,” Quine said, adding that part of this involves opening up the facility to use by commercial interests.

Researchers see the facility as the jumping point to bigger and better things. In 2009, they are planning to launch a Canadian Mars lander and rover system, known as Northern Light. “The objective is to put Canada on Mars, to put a Canadian flag on Mars,” Quine said. Other hotly touted items include Argus, a micro-spectrometer that is designed to detect pollutants. It’s scheduled for launch in 2007.

  • The CRESS lab opening was also featured Oct. 11 on CBC Radio and TV newscasts: Quine was interviewed about it on radio’s “Ontario Today” and “CBC News at Six” in Toronto, with additional comments by York researchers Raj Seth and Stephen Brown, and on “Canada Now” on CBC Newsworld .

Dean steps down for the day

The dean of York University’s law school traded places – even parking spaces – with a first-year law student, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 12. Dean Patrick Monahan attended classes. Tamara Maurer, 23, took over his cushy office, had access to his reserved parking spot, chaired meetings, and even talked to the manager of the cafeteria about serving free-trade coffee. The “dean for a day” contest is, in fact, a chance for Osgoode Hall Law School to hear from its students. To enter, they had to submit a 500-word essay explaining their vision of the future of the school. Maurer’s entry was titled “Beefing Up Osgoode’s Environmental Program”. It said, in part: “As dean, my primary initiative would be to expand on Osgoode’s current foundation of environmental legal education. When it comes to our environmental program, Osgoode is one of few that has the bones, but excuse the pun, where’s the beef?”

Home-schooling has drawbacks

As kids complete their home schooling, they sometimes have to jump through extra hoops to enter the postsecondary education system, reported the Stratford Beacon-Herald Oct. 11. “The approach the universities have taken is: Really, we do need to have some quantifiable information on these students because essentially grades are the best predictor of success at university,” said Rob Tiffin, vice-president, students, at York. He added that he is beginning to see an increasing number of home-schooled students coming through the application process.

Due diligence a requirement before investing in collectibles

From fancy vintage clothing to hockey cards, collectibles are popular once again, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 12. Pauline Shum, a finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, says collectibles such as baseball cards or vintage clothing may not be wise investments.

“It depends on what you’re looking at in terms of returns,” Shum said. “If you’re looking at purely financial returns, they may not be.” With regard to vintage clothes, for example, “from a purely financial point of view, I may not recommend it because, first of all, you’re going to have to store it properly and there will be storage costs,” she added. Fashion also depends greatly on trends that she noted can be tough to predict. “Let’s say ’40s vintage fashion is in this year. Who’s to say there will be a demand for it in 10 years? That can really adversely affect the returns,” Shum said. “But if you get joy out of something and want to buy for pleasure, that’s a different story,” she added.

Picking an MBA program

The Toronto Star recently held a roundtable on MBAs with four expert panellists: David Saunders, dean of Queen’s School of Business; Lisa Wiens, a recent graduate of the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business; Matt Wallace, student, York University’s Schulich School of Business; and moderator Sharda Prashad, a reporter for the Star’s Business section, a 2005 graduate of the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program and a chartered accountant. On Oct. 12, the Star printed a partial transcript, in which Wallace says: “The MBA experience is more rewarding with a couple of years of experience behind you. You’ll be able to contribute in class discussions more meaningfully, have a better grasp of general and/or specific business concepts, and have a better frame of reference for the material.”

Corporate donors funded Vaughan mayor’s past campaign

In a story Oct. 12 about the municipal race in Vaughan, the Toronto Star cites a study released in June by York University political science Professor Robert MacDermid analyzing corporate campaign contributions in nine suburban municipalities in 2003. It found that Vaughan had the highest percentage – 80 per cent – of money given to politicians by corporations. When the study was released, incumbent Mayor Michael Di Biase said that the fact that he received 93.5 per cent of his campaign contributions from the corporate sector, including developers, doesn’t mean they have influence over his council votes.

Margaret Visser: A classic church lady

The Toronto Star’s Jim Bawden interviewed author and classicist  Margaret Visser about her new TV documentary, The Geometry of Love, which aired Thursday on Vision TV. In his Oct. 12 account, he wrote: Visser positively beams when I confide it’s one of the best Canadian TV documentaries of the season. It’s a virtual must-see visit inside an early church in Rome, Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura, said to contain the bones of St. Agnes, who was martyred in 304 AD. Her book came out to great acclaim in 2002, stuffed with anecdotes and personal reflections, a decidedly unstuffy visit back in time. “The ancient world is hot if you write it correctly,” Visser says. She taught Latin and Greek at York from 1974 to 1978. 

  • The National Post also ran a story Oct. 12 about how Visser found God during a fitness class.

Jazzman’s Crucible took nine years

For three decades Gord Sheard has been a stalwart of the keyboards in and around Toronto, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 12. His CV includes high-profile engagements at home and in the US, South America and the Caribbean, including tours with trumpet legend Chuck Mangione, percussionist Rick Lazar’s Montuno Police and Montreal bassist Alain Caron. Along with his performance career, Sheard has produced records for the likes of vocalists Carol Welsman and Eliana Cuevas, had his tunes heard on television and in movies and done studio work for artists such as Liona Boyd, Brian Hughes, Levon Ichkhanian, Rita McNeil and Louise Pitre. Now he’s put out a CD of his own. It’s titled Crucible, which aptly alludes to the kind of music Sheard makes. It’s fusion, and also melodic; the 11 tunes are all his compositions and meld jazz, R&B, funk, reggae, Brazilian and other global rhythms. It’s amazing that this is Sheard’s first recording as band leader – and that the gestation period took nine years. For that, he has an unusual excuse – he’s enrolled in the doctoral ethnomusicology program at York University, with a focus on Latin music.

York recognized ‘woman of firsts’

An Oct. 12 Toronto Star feature on legendary aviation engineer Elsie MacGill called her a woman of firsts. She was the first Canadian woman to graduate with an electrical engineering degree, the first in North America to earn a graduate degree in aeronautical engineering, the first woman to design and build an aircraft, and the chief engineer at a factory in Thunder Bay that turned out Hawker Hurricane fighter planes for Britain during World War II. MacGill was awarded the Order of Canada in 1971 and in 1978, York University awarded her an honorary doctor of science degree. She died in a car accident in Massachusetts in 1980 at the age of 76

On air

  • Astronaut and York alumnus Steve MacLean (BA ’77, PhD ’83) discussed his trip to space with George Stromboulopoulos on CBC TV’s “The Hour” Oct. 11.