York researchers keenly focused on Mars

York University researchers leading the Canadian science team for NASA’s Phoenix Mission are anxiously awaiting the spacecraft’s landing Sunday, May 25, on the Red Planet, wrote the North York Mirror May 20.

“After five years of very hard work, 80-hour work weeks, the Phoenix project is getting more exciting,” Jim Whiteway, professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering, and leader of the York team, told reporters Friday, May 16, at a briefing leading up to the landing.

Phoenix marks the first time Canada will take part in a Mars landing. The spacecraft carries a Canadian-built weather station, including sophisticated laser instrumentation designed and built by scientists at York, the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University and Denmark’s University of Aarhus.

The meteorological instrument package (MET) will gather crucial data about the weather and climate on Mars and provide a comprehensive picture of the atmosphere at the landing site, 1,200 kilometres from the planet’s north pole. This marks the first time such data have been collected.

The MET package consists of temperature, wind and pressure sensors, along with a laser-based light detecting and ranging (lidar) system. The lidar will shoot pulses of laser light into the Martian sky, precisely measuring components of the atmosphere such as dust, ground fog and clouds, from the surface up to a range of 20 kilometres. A wind sensor, known as a telltale – constructed by the University of Aarhus – sits at the top of the meteorological station’s mast and will provide additional information about wind speed and direction.

Phoenix is scheduled to land around 7:30pm EDT, Whiteway said, adding it will free fall about a kilometre before landing on Mars’ surface. “This is the moment we’ve been anxiously awaiting, especially over the last 10 months since the launch,” he said.

  • York alumnus Russell McNeil (PhD ‘73) will be watching closely when NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft makes its nail-biting landing on Martian soil on Sunday [May 25], wrote The Daily News (Nanaimo) May 21. Packed on board will be the latest version of something called lidar, or laser radar, which McNeil helped pioneer as a graduate student nearly 40 years ago in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. “It’s going to be cool,” McNeil said.

If it makes it to Mars, that is. The Phoenix mission, launched in August 2007, is a tricky one for NASA, since it will be made without air bags to cushion its landing. And McNeil, a retired Malaspina University-College instructor who lives in Nanoose Bay, BC, fully recognizes that. “It may crash,” he said “For the sake of everyone involved, I hope they make it.”

McNeil was excited to learn the tool he helped invent is being used in space exploration. “It just blew me out of the water because I had more or less lost touch. It’s almost 40 years since we started and I have moved away from that. I was always pleased we had done that.”

York program urges aspiring educators to focus on community

Suddenly, the colour-coded sensitivity that York’s Urban Diversity Initiative has fostered since 1994 is becoming timely in a province with soaring diversity, wrote the Toronto Star May 21, in a story that featured student teacher Iman Abamoussa and several of her fellow student teachers in York’s Faculty of Education. The story was written on the eve of a vote by the Toronto District School Board on establishing an Africentric alternative school.

“Everyone has an identity, and, if you’re a white middle-class teacher, that may affect how you interact with your black working-class students, so that’s important to realize,” said Professor Patrick Solomon of York’s Faculty of Education, who founded the Urban Diversity program.

Not only does the program recruit half its class of 70 each year from groups under-represented in teaching – visible minorities, foreign-trained teachers, the disabled, aboriginals – but it sends them out to practise-teach in teams of mixed backgrounds so they can learn from each other’s perspectives. Abamoussa was sent to C.R. Marchant Middle School in Weston teamed with Reza Hosseinifar, from Iran; Glenroy Ennis, a former economist from Jamaica; and Janine Brown, who is of Guyanese ancestry.

The Urban Diversity program also requires student teachers to get to know the community in which they practise-teach by thinking up a program that fills a local need. “Teachers need to know more than the three Rs; if you don’t know the community your students live in – the social, the racial dynamics – you won’t be as effective,” said Solomon.

All 1,700 students in York’s various teaching programs are trained in diversity and multiculturalism, said Dean Paul Axelrod – from the inner-city schools where they practise to community agencies where they volunteer.

CBC tests system by visiting casinos, cashing out large amounts

As part of an investigation into suspected money laundering at casinos in Ontario, CBC News discovered it isn’t difficult to leave a casino with an official cheque, even after behaving in what security officials consider to be a suspicious manner, wrote CBC News online May 21.

An expert on criminal behaviour from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Faculty of Arts says even though casino-player data is subject to many protocols and reporting procedures, it isn’t being heavily scrutinized. “A major danger of the enforcement bodies that work inside the casinos is how very quickly they come to identify with the needs of the casino,” said York criminologist Margaret Beare. “And those needs very clearly become profit over enforcement.”

Anti-abortion debate at BC college recalls similar incident at York

Rather than face a hearing at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, the student union at North Vancouver’s Capilano College has agreed that an anti-abortion student group can operate on campus next year, wrote the National Post May 21. A similar dispute in March at York University – in which a student leader outraged the debating club by cancelling a moderated discussion of abortion in the student building, on the grounds that the topic was “out of line” – was resolved only when the administration stepped in with an alternative venue.

York graduate championed the environment and defeated the ‘Harvard Mouse’

Osgoode alumna Michelle Swenarchuk (LLB ’74) was a public intellectual, wrote The Globe and Mail May 21, in an obituary. As executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association she fought for sustainable development in Northern Ontario’s forests. Her work and vision contributed to Canada’s most positive environmental footprints, and there is some suggestion that it was she who coined the phrase “environmental crisis.”

Swenarchuk also led a successful intervention in the famed Harvard Mouse Case, in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on whether medical researchers could patent higher life forms. She participated in negotiations and consultations regarding international laws at the World Trade Organization, the Organization of Economic Development, the International Labour Organization and the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation.

Swenarchuk moved to Toronto in the early 1970s to attend York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. There, she found that just 10 per cent of the student body was female, with an even smaller number specializing in labour law, as she did. She was called to the bar in 1976 and opened a practice with Judith McCormack (LLB ’76, LLM ’86), a fellow York graduate.

Swenarchuk was born in Lloydminster, Sask., on Oct. 30, 1948. She died of cancer at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto on Feb. 27. She was 59.

Former mayor of Scarborough studied at York

She was Scarborough’s first female mayor, a crusader for protecting green spaces, a strong-willed woman who wasn’t afraid to stand up for her beliefs, wrote the Toronto Star May 21 in an obituary. Former York student Joyce Trimmer – a secretary-turned-teacher-turned-politician – stumbled into politics, after battling a proposed development of the Tam O’Shanter Golf Club lands near her home.

Trimmer died Saturday, after a battle with breast and brain cancer. She was 80.

Born in London, England, Trimmer and her pilot husband, Douglas, moved to Canada in 1954. She worked toward a degree through York University, taking classes during the summer [from 1969 to 1974] but she had to give up her studies when she found her place in politics. “I think she worked about 80 hours a week,” said her daughter, York alumna Karen Trimmer (BAS ’84), who never heard her mother complain about the long hours. “She was a pretty driven individual.”

New law school a step closer to reality

Northern Ontario has inched closer to having its own law school after the Law Society of Upper Canada gave preliminary approval last week to a bid from Lakehead University, wrote the Law Times May 5. But, while the law society benchers voted overwhelmingly in support of the initiative by the Thunder Bay school, some voiced concerns and voted against it.

The Ontario Law Deans gave a cool response to Lakehead’s proposal, wrote the Times. In a letter to the society’s policy counsel, Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the deans aren’t satisfied by the proposed curriculum for the school. The deans believe too many non-law courses will be offered for credit, and that the courses won’t provide a sufficiently “broad ranging” legal education.

Lakehead President Frederick Gilbert said in an interview that the deans’ reaction was based on an incomplete view of the proposed school’s curriculum, and that their concerns “are not of substance.”

Actor let motherhood change her tune

York alumna Jen Gould’s (BFA ‘94) second act is paying off, wrote the Toronto Star May 18. The respected film and stage actor  – whom Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian once described as being imbued with “a smile that could bring about global warming single-handedly” – has successfully transitioned to children’s entertainment, selling nearly 20,000 copies of her Juno-winning debut disc Music Soup.

The prestigious prize has meant more sales, gigs and store placement for the CD, which evolved from Gould’s maternity leave with daughter Shoshana eight years ago. “I decided to fill the creative urge with children’s stories written in verse,” explained the graduate of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, who spent four seasons at Stratford prior to starting a family.

Grossman’s retro dance party

The arthritic knees are a constant, painful reminder of how high and how often Danny Grossman used to jump, how many times he dove to the floor or did daredevil lifts, wrote the Toronto Star May 18 in a story about the former York dance instructor’s retirement plans. “They’re fine,” he says, easing up out of his chair to get some relief for his creaking joints. “They just don’t want to bend that far.”

Grossman remembers a lot about his 10 years dancing with the Paul Taylor Dance Company in New York, before coming to Canada in 1973 to teach in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

A perception of bias easily avoided

Has the time come to change the rules about who may contribute to municipal campaigns or whether council members should vote on issues affecting donors, asked columnist Joan Little in the Hamilton Spectator May 20.

A study by Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, of 2003 donations in 10 GTA municipalities east of Oakville, identified Vaughan as king for development donations. Six of its nine council members received between 77.3 and 96.7 per cent from corporate donors, much from the development industry (developers, consultants, contractors, builders). Three councillor candidates got between $61,475 and $171,025, and former mayor Michael Di Biase, $196,750.

A United Nations of employees

York alumna Shaker Khaleque (BSc ‘06) is a 27-year-old Microsoft Office team member from Bangladesh, who now lives in Richmond, BC, wrote the Richmond Review May 17. “I graduated from York University (Faculty of Science & Engineering) in Toronto and then I applied. It’s a great company to work for: a lot of benefits working here, cool stuff you work on.”

Police on the lookout for man who groped woman at bus loop at York University

For the second time in two months, a groper has molested a woman at York University’s bus loop, wrote the National Post May 21. Police said yesterday the man first struck at about 2pm on March 16, groping a woman’s breasts as she was walking near the bus stop. “[The victim] said, in her words, ‘What the f— are you doing?’ and he just kind of held his hands up [and said] ‘sorry’,” said Detective Rick Proctor, explaining that the man then ran away.

At dusk last Thursday, the groper struck again. “He got the girl to sit on a park bench with him and he started kissing her,” Det. Proctor said. “He’s got some kind of a fantasy in his head that he’s developed a relationship with these people.” The suspect is described as a 40-to 50-year old East Indian male, 5’8” to 5’10” tall with a medium build, who speaks with a heavy East Indian accent. Police are trying to both warn the public to stay on their guard, but also to encourage other victims to come forward, Det. Proctor said.

  • May 20, The Canadian Press and the North York Mirror also carried stories about the incidents, as did CBC-TV and several local radio stations.

On air

  • Chuck Gastle, adjunct professor of international law in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about current issues up for discussion at the North American Leaders Summit, on CBC Radio May 20.