Spying from space on emissions

Instead of counting on polluters to report their own emissions, York space scientist Brendan Quine has developed a sneaky pollution spy – a tiny gadget that works in space, reported The Globe and Mail Nov. 3. Called the Argus microspectrometer, it picks up on the chemical signatures of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. It will launch into orbit next month on board a microsatellite test-driving tiny instruments. Most tools sent into space cost millions and wind up as nothing more than pollution themselves: giant pieces of obsolete trash orbiting the Earth. Argus costs about $75,000 and can fit in the palm of your hand – making it a cost-effective example of sustainable space instrumentation.

"In Canada, we are fond of suggesting that pollution that causes reductions in air quality is transported from the United States, but is this actually true? We aim to look at this problem," says Quine, a professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. Ultimately, Argus will create better models of pollution distribution, as well as develop a monitoring and detection system to track where it comes from.

Publish-or-perish culture at universities harms public good, says Arthurs

A publish-or-perish research culture has turned Canadian universities into breeding grounds for unscrupulous professors who use taxpayer dollars to line their own pockets and claim their students’ work as their own, a former president of York University says, reported the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 3. Harry Arthurs, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, told an Ottawa conference of academics Friday that ivory-tower careers are increasingly measured by the volume of research published by scholars and the amount of grants they attract, resulting in the corruption of academic values such as honesty, integrity and knowledge produced for the public good.

He blamed the culture shift on the private sector’s eagerness to commercialize research, and blasted universities and governments for giving in to pressure to show a return on public investments. And he condemned academics for being "not only complicit, but sometimes proactive in these developments." In particular, Arthurs singled out professors who use research grants to start their own companies and the funding agencies that turn a blind eye to the practice.

Aboriginal surnames have a short history

While most British Columbia residents have surnames that date back hundreds of years – or, in the case of Chinese-Canadians, thousands – there is one group whose surnames are still relatively recent: First Nations, reported the Vancouver Sun Nov. 3. And Aboriginals aren’t the only people for whom surnames are relatively recent. Sheila Embleton, a linguistics and names expert at York University, said when she did some work with colleagues in Mongolia several years ago, she was surprised to learn that most only used a single name. Single names worked just fine when Mongolia was a nomadic culture, made up of small groups of herders. But as the country became more modern and urban, things got too confusing. So, in 1997, the Mongolian government passed a law requiring everyone to adopt a surname – in the hopes it would make it easier to keep track of everyone. Unfortunately, the plan backfired. That’s because about half the population chose the exact same last name: Borjigin, the clan name of famed Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan.

Conference tackles campus date rape

Horrifying as recent campus rapes are at York and Carleton universities, social workers and others who monitor violence against women say they reflect only a fragment of what happens on today’s campuses, reported the Edmonton Journal Nov. 4. Indeed, they worry such sensational stories may lead women to let their guard down in situations they believe are safe. Beginning Sunday, the Jewish Women International of Canada was hosting a two-day workshop in Montreal, titled Sexual Assault on Campus: Exposing the Truth. At a special session for students, Jennifer Connolly, director of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution at York, was to talk about the signs of physical and psychological abuse and try to get students, both male and female, talking about what it means to have a healthy dating relationship.

An international perspective leads to oil and tech investments

In a special section Nov. 3 on Globe Investor Markets, The Globe and Mail profiled the investment strategy of Kirk Atkinson, who is teaching international relations in York’s Faculty of Arts.
RATE OF RETURN: "More than 25 per cent a year in recent years." That average is weighed down, he says, by a deliberate effort to minimize risk.
INVESTMENT PERSONALITY: Once committed to an investment, Atkinson is not easily dissuaded. He favours buy-and-hold but not through cyclical downturns. Understanding financial markets is critical in international political economics, he says, and it helps inform his investing.
INVESTMENT STRATEGY: He is committed to oil from the drill bit to the gas station and also high tech. "The world is not in a post-industrial age," he says. "The global economy is still driven by resource-consuming industries, and high-priced oil is here to stay – and high tech too."

Inflexible curriculum hurts split grades, conference hears

Split grades are nearly impossible for teachers to handle under Ontario’s rigid, jam-packed curriculum, participants at an education conference were told Saturday, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 4.

A teacher with a Grade 4/5 split has to cover 492 "expectations" for Grade 4s and 478 for Grade 5s during the school year, Susan Perry of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association told parents at a conference organized by advocacy and research group People for Education, held at York University.

  • CBC Radio regional news reported Nov. 4 that teachers, parents and students, from across Ontario gathered at York looking at ways to improve the public education system.

Double-team degrees

Over the past decade, Canada’s postsecondary school system has increasingly morphed into a new type of education, one that melds college and university traditions, reported The Globe and Mail Nov. 5 in a special report on colleges. Community colleges, technical and vocational institutes – many founded during the economic boom of the 1960s to address the needs of a rapidly expanding manufacturing and service economy – now offer hybrid or joint degree programs. In Ontario, Seneca College offers many bachelor’s programs, some in collaboration with York University. Seneca’s degree offerings include control systems technology, financial services management, flight program, environmental restoration, and municipal and corporate administration.

Chinese educators visit Elgin high school

Seen through the eyes of a Chinese teacher, the classes at East Elgin Secondary School are fun and interesting and the students are keen and academically skilled, reported the St. Thomas Times-Journal Nov. 3. Visiting educators from China, who are studying at York University, got a first-hand look at the EESS classroom environment for a few hours this week. The 42 visitors were given a chance to see new teaching strategies. Those strategies stress interaction, allowing students to participate in a give-and-take style of presenting the lesson. The visiting teachers agreed it’s a marked departure from the traditional lecture style that has been used for generations and is still the staple in China. Before the teachers came to Aylmer, EESS principal Patricia Thompson had been at York giving them a preview of how the new strategy works.

Public vs. private space

The Scots are talking about how one of their own, Robert Stewart, recently pleaded guilty in court in the town of Ayr in southwest Scotland for breach of the peace, for having "sex" with a bike, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 4. The facts make what happened more bizarre than just the sex act itself. They call into question the notion of private versus public space. Stewart was in a hostel. His door was locked. The cleaning staff knocked but got no reply. They unlocked the door and found Stewart. Police would have a hard time convicting Stewart here, says Alan Young, a civil liberties advocate and law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, noting that the man locked his door.