US Phoenix scientists call Canada’s contribution a ‘Godsend’

Canada, which is part of a group working to bring samples of Mars back to Earth, has helped the mission exploring the Red Planet to get more bang for its buck, says a key American scientist, wrote The Canadian Press July 20.

Peter Smith, the lead scientist behind the Phoenix Mars Lander, describes the Canadian contribution to the mission [led by a team from York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering] as "a godsend," and says a $37-million Canadian-built weather station on board the spacecraft has worked "flawlessly" since it landed on May 25.

"The Canadian contribution is helping [us] understand the interaction between water in the atmosphere and water under the surface," Smith said in a wide-ranging interview.

For now, the 60-year-old scientist and his team are concentrating on the work being done by the scoop on the Mars lander which has been digging for water. A special rasp was added to the back of the scoop after studies were done at the Space Instrumentation Laboratory at York University.

Peter Taylor, of York’s Centre for Research into Earth & Space Science, says the original plan of the Phoenix science team was to scrape the ice with a fork to collect ice samples.

"At York we were cautious about this and convinced the science team that the ice samples would simply vaporize away before they could be analyzed," he said. "Adding the rasp to collect samples faster will hopefully ensure that ice can be delivered to an analyzer before it disappears."

Disclose contract perks to attract university bosses, experts urge

Ending the secrecy around top academics’ contracts will make it easier for universities to compete for talent, their administrators say, wrote the Ottawa Citizen July 19.

In the past three weeks, since McMaster University abandoned a legal battle to keep the contract of its president under wraps, universities across Ontario have been releasing their own presidents’ contracts. York University President Mamdouh Shoukri gets performance bonuses of $81,000 a year and $50,000 of his $750,000 housing loan is forgiven for each year he spends as president.

Wonder what the condo fees are like?

The Toronto Islands are far from a gentrification hot spot but islanders are buzzing about the rise of the islands’ first condo, wrote The Globe and Mail July 19. Peek behind the Franklin Children’s Garden, an educational centre, and you’ll find the Pink Bee-Wasp Condo, a wooden box perched atop a three-metre- tall pole.

And while a Barbie-pink condo isn’t exactly trendy, the colour has been chosen for a reason. "Some bees love the colour pink," says Laurence Packer, an entomology professor at York University, who recently released a pocket-sized handbook called A Guide to Toronto’s Pollinators. "They sometimes get lost, so with colour, they can find their home."

Osgoode alumnus Daniel Iron swelters in Egypt making his new film

Daniel Iron (LLB ’87) – a pretty unflappable sort, who normally rolls with the punches – is finding the sound pollution the most distracting thing of all, wrote The Globe and Mail July 19. "You can’t imagine. It’s a very intimidating city to venture into, with roughly 20 million people," says the 44-year-old Toronto native, who has been in this ancient Egyptian location shooting his latest feature film, Canadian Ruba Nadda’s romantic drama, Cairo Time.

Iron, who has studiously kept a low profile most of his career, has been steadily earning his chops over the past two decades, producing critically lauded TV and film. Among his projects: 1998’s Oscar-winning The Red Violin, Sarah Polley’s Oscar-nominated Away From Her, and the Gemini-winning television series Slings & Arrows.

Caribana officials hope high gas prices won’t hurt event

Scotiabank Caribana officials are returning to their roots and have their fingers crossed that high gas prices won’t keep away die-hard US visitors who return every year to jump up in the massive street parade, wrote The Toronto Sun July 18.

The 41st annual Caribbean festival stages its popular Junior Carnival July 19 on Shoreham Drive at 11am. The parade will run east of Jane St. to Murray Ross Parkway and motorists can expect road closures in the Jane-Finch area.

Doyle said the festival is also being attended by more than 250 scholars, professors and academics from an international conference, Carnival: A People’s Art and Taking back the Streets. The five-day symposium takes place at the University of Toronto and York University.

Bird book offers hope for the non-birder

Ted Floyd, editor of the new Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (HarperCollins Canada, $26.95) remains an optimist when it comes to the survival obstacles we humans have imposed on birds, unlike writers like Bridget Stutchbury, an ornithologist and biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering whose 2006 book, The Silence of the Songbirds, raised alarms about decreasing bird populations, wrote The Edmonton Journal July 19.

President and CEO, Hydro One

York alumna Laura Formusa (LLB ’78) calls herself a Hydro One lifer, wrote the Toronto Star July 19 in a profile of the president and CEO of the utility. She first joined the company in 1973 as a summer student while studying law at York’s Osgoode Hall. Law School. After five summers at the utility — then called Ontario Hydro — she articled at a law firm.

In 1980, the year Formusa was called to the bar, it wasn’t so easy finding a job as a young lawyer. "I got tired of sitting around and sending out applications, so I went back to Ontario Hydro and took the only job I could get, which was a clerk typist."

She jokes that she’s the fastest-typing CEO around. "My goal was to work in-house as a lawyer in the law division of Ontario Hydro. It took four years to do that."

Ontario Hydro, she recalls, probably had more women workers back in the 1980s than other companies in the energy sector. "It’s fair to say that while women weren’t driving the industry at Ontario Hydro, there always were a lot of women around," she says. "I never had a shortage of women role models, and that’s to Ontario Hydro’s credit."

Seeing beyond the headlights

It’s a jungle in the tech world, and Tom Jenkins‘ company, Open Text Corp., has clawed its way to become Canada’s largest software firm, wrote The Globe and Mail July 21. Through the meltdowns and mergers, Jenkins (MBA ’87), 48, has evolved from CEO into executive chairman and chief strategy officer at Open Text, an Internet company that is one of the most luminary members of Waterloo, Ont.’s high-tech cluster. He has also taken time to sit on a high-profile competition policy review panel, which reported on Canada’s economic challenges.

The Globe noted that Jenkins has an MBA in entrepreneurship & technology management from Schulich School of Business at York University.

Why the difference in crime data for ‘non-whites’?

Visible minorities charged with a crime in Canada are less likely to be convicted, but more likely to have a DNA sample taken, wrote the Toronto Star July 21. They’re also more likely to have police warnings on their file for violence, escape risk and suicidal behaviour.

These differences were identified in a Star analysis of the criminal histories of nearly 3-million people. The data comes from the Canadian Police Information Centre database, in which race is recorded as white or non-white.

Non-whites are more likely to have warnings on their file than whites indicating they are considered violent or a suicide risk. These, along with notations for mental instability and escape risk, are entered by local police forces.

York University Professor Frances Henry and instructor Carol Tator, sociologists in York’s Faculty of Arts and researchers who have co-authored a book on racial profiling in Canada, also reviewed the data. In an e-mail, they say the differences in danger warnings are "in line with the racial profiling evidence shown in much of the literature both here and abroad in which extra surveillance and scrutiny especially of blacks is often emphasized."

On air

·         Bernard Wolfe, economics professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about troubles with General Motors and its future survival, on CBC Radio’s "Here and Now" July 15.