York team’s package heads for Mars on Phoenix

NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft launched Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a 10-month journey to the north pole of Mars, where it is expected to be the first craft to sample the water of another planet, wrote The Edmonton Journal Aug. 5. The Delta II rocket carrying the more than two-metre-tall lander lifted off near dawn on a scheduled journey that should deliver Phoenix to the Martian surface on May 25.

The Phoenix Mars Lander is a product of NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and universities around the world. If all goes to plan, it will land near Mars’ north pole, where it will search for traces of water. It is the first ground-level exploration of the planet’s arctic region. On board the lander is a weather station, designed and built in part by teams at York University, the University of Alberta, and Dalhousie University. The station will record pressure, temperature, cloud height, and hopefully, atmospheric conditions suitable to sustain microbial life.

  • Peter Taylor and Jim Whiteway, professors in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and members of the York team responsible for the MET package on NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander, spoke about the mission on CBC Radio stations across the country on Aug. 3. Radio and TV stations across Canada also reported on York’s involvement in the Phoenix mission as it launched Aug. 4.

Another York experiment could help future Mars missions

York Professor Barry Fowler is just months away from seeing his experiment come to a close, nearly a decade after it was initially proposed, wrote Canadian Press Aug. 6. "This project was first proposed in 1998, so I’ve been waiting a long time for it to come to fruition," said Fowler, a neuroscientist in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health.

Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and another astronaut will take part in the experiment during the space shuttle Endeavour’s 14-day mission to the International Space Station, which is slated to begin this week. Fowler designed the experiment in which astronauts tap targets on a computer screen using both a joystick and stylus, as well as push a button while responding to musical tones.

The experiment, called Perceptual-Motor Defecits in Space (PMDIS), measures how space modifies hand-eye co-ordination. The findings will also be valuable in light of plans for a long-term mission to Mars, as researchers are trying to develop ways of counteracting the effects of zero gravity on the human body.

Governance jihads

By coincidence, within a few days last week three corporate-governance events converged: the fifth anniversary of the Enron-inspired Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a not-guilty verdict in the Bre-X scandal, and the appointment of a new Chair of Corporate Governance at York University in Toronto, wrote business columnist Terence Corcoran in the National Post Aug. 4. The Chair is a joint venture of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Schulich School of Business.

Good governance theory, based on work that’s empirical and sound rather than on ideology and myth, is in short supply, wrote Corcoran. A good university Chair might help fix the shortage. It’s certainly overdue at York, where chairs in dubious wealth-draining subjects – such as corporate social responsibility, sustainable development and corporate ethics – have been all the rage. The major impact of beavering away at sustainable development and CSR has been to promote executive focus on keep-your-eye-off-the-ball theories. Canada could use a little real governance work for a change.

Building the bridge to a new school

Most were behind in reading; three spoke no English. But mere weeks after attending a summer literacy camp, the dozen kindergarten and Grade 1 students are already reading better and learning to write sentences on their own, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 7. The camp, held in a mosque in Maple, Ont., is giving these children – all Ahmadiyya Muslims whose families emigrated from Pakistan – the boost they need before school begins in the fall. The twist? It’s not run by the mosque, or even an Islamic group. It’s run by York Region’s public school board.

The instructor was key, said Lisa Leoni, a teacher who runs the “summer institute” at Michael Cranny Elementary School and the mosque, so they hired a local mother who is a York University student just one semester away from becoming a full-fledged teacher. Saima Dard, whose own daughter attended a summer institute at the mosque two years ago, said she has seen students go from not reading English at all to a level 10, which is where they should be when they finish Grade 1.

Judge asks psychiatrist to sit in for Rosato trial

A Superior Court judge has ordered a psychiatrist to stand by in a Kingston courtroom as jailed TV actor Tony Rosato’s long-awaited criminal harassment trial begins today, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 7. Justice Gordon Thomson took the unusual step of ordering the independent psychiatrist to be present, defence lawyer Daniel Brodsky said, because both Rosato and his estranged wife, Leah, have psychiatric histories.

But Rosato’s long-delayed trial, which begins today in the Superior Court of Justice at Kingston’s Frontenac County Courthouse, might not even get off the ground unless it can be proved that the case is being heard in the right jurisdiction, Brodsky added. "It’s very sad," said Alan Young, criminal law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "The one thing this case demonstrates clearly is the inability of the criminal justice system to deal with mentally disordered offenders charged with minor offences."

Home and garden pesticide will harm creek ecosystem

Pesticides are designed to kill pests, wrote Professor Roberto Quinlan, of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering in a letter to the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 4 taking issue with an earlier letter writer who claimed household pesticides aren’t very effective. If any company’s home and garden products "wouldn’t kill anything anyways," they must be the worst pesticides on the market, Quinlan wrote. Broad-spectrum pesticides designed to kill rodents and garden insects would definitely kill fish as well as aquatic insects, an important food source for fish.

One basic tenet of toxicology is that "dose makes the poison," wrote Quinlan. While scattered, low-density use of pesticides in homes and gardens located a reasonable distance from a water body may have only slight impacts on an aquatic ecosystem, it would be a completely different matter to have substantial quantities of these materials released a very short distance from a water body, even if they are designed for residential use.

This Cousteau comes with batteries

Robots have been getting a lot of press of late for their domestic potential, especially in aid of our aging population. But science is looking for hired help as well – in its case, for work where no man dares to go, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 4. A team that includes Michael Jenkin, professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, and colleagues from McGill and Dalhousie universities, is hard at work on something even more ambitious: the world’s first amphibious robot.

Called AQUA, it’s basically a mechanized marine biologist capable of walking on land and swimming underwater – and it doesn’t run out of air, disturb organisms during surveys or suffer decompression sickness at depths below 30 metres. So far, the robot has built 3-D models of the environment deep underwater, interacted with marine life and returned data to researchers by walking out of the sea and up the beach. Now, building on four years of experimentation, AQUA is being trained to recognize individual coral reef species and conduct environmental monitoring. The evaluation of fish stocks and the detection of underwater weapons such as naval mines could be next.

James says you can feel the excitement over soccer

Longtime observers like former Canadian international Paul James and soccer historian Colin Jose believe the current tsunami of attention to soccer, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 4. "You can really feel the excitement around the game with the under-20 tournament and Toronto FC," said James, who heads York University’s soccer program.

"The tournament showed the high interest level but also exposed the realities of the game at the elite level," James said. "Our players don’t have the skills, technically or tactically, and the drive to succeed at that level."

James said he’s not dissing the young men who wore the maple leaf, only the system that has not allowed them to be better players. The York head coach admits he’s biased, but thinks the CSA needs a national focus on coaching and resources to produce world-class players that begins with eight-year-olds leading to the apex of the pyramid at the university level.

With cash, investors must find a happy medium

Over the long term, stocks pay out better returns than bonds or cash, but are much more volatile, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 4. "You have to have a good stomach to go through the ups and downs of the market," says Moshe Milevsky, professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business. "If you will be in a coma for 20 years, then you would be at 100- per-cent equity."

The appetite for risk depends on the individual’s personality, but also on the individual’s situation, Milevsky adds. "I am a tenured professor and have a guaranteed income for life," he explains. "That makes me a bond. If my total income in my life as a teacher will be $2.5-million, should my asset allocation not be affected?" With the foundation of an annuity income, the investor can take more market risk, Milevsky suggests.

Math competitors attended camp at York

The Canadian Mathematical Society selected and trained competitors for the 48th International Math Olympiad in Vietnam, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 7. Last winter, it hosted a camp at York University where the society posed a number of problems to 15 students. Based on their results and their personalities, officials whittled the team down to six.

Canadians infiltrate Evian

What are three Toronto boys – one of them with London connections – doing near the top rungs of the corporate ladder at the world’s leading brand of bottled water? They’re doing swimmingly, thank you very much, wrote the London Free Press Aug. 6.

Etobicoke’s Jeff Caswell (MBA ΄01) became vice-president of marketing. Caswell learned his trade at York’s Schulich School of Business and at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, before cutting his teeth with Heinz, General Mills and Danone.

A new brand of brew on tap

Lunch will never be the same, promises Tinderbox Theatre of T.O, which is premiering Pic-Nic-Nac, a new play for preschoolers at the London Fringe Festiva, wrote the St. Thomas Times-Journal Aug. 3. The company is three former York University theatre students – among them, West Lorne native Charlene Carroll (BFA ’03) who co-wrote the show and shares the stage with Ann McDougall (BFA ’03).

On air

  • York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, spoke about the projected need for another university in the Greater Toronto Area on OMNI-TV’s South Asian Edition News Aug. 3.
  • York students and Lions volleyball players Paul Podstawka and Chris Simek spoke about teaming up for beach volleyball on CHCH TV (Hamilton) Aug. 6.