Canadians join in the hunt for life on Mars

The latest hunt for signs of life on Mars will involve a team of Canadian scientists, searching for gas, reported The Canadian Press Aug. 16, in a story picked up Aug. 17 by The Globe and Mail.

The researchers are part of an international team that will work on an instrument known as MATMOS, or Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer. The instrument will be used during the 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission involving NASA and the European Space Agency.  

MATMOS will probe the red planet’s atmosphere for biological sources of methane. The gas was found on Mars in 2003 in greater abundance than expected.  

The Canadian scientists involved in the project come from the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, York University and the University of Winnipeg.

Planner-turned-prof sought to democratize the city

Eli Comay was an idealistic, visionary city planner and social housing advocate in Toronto who won some and lost some, and mostly managed to keep his frustrations in check when his ideas collided with political realities, developers and bean counters, began a Globe and Mail obituary Aug. 17.

Comay, who died in Toronto on Aug. 2 at the age of 90, was a lifelong leftist whose vision of cities some might call quixotic: His urban spaces, which were committed to the idea of equal access to all services, were modern, socially just and fully egalitarian. Mass transit was cheap and mass housing available. Living downtown was not just for the rich.

Eli Comay joined the Metro Toronto Planning Board in 1955, and served as planning commissioner from 1962 to 1966. Working alongside the legendary city planner Hans Blumenfeld, Comay helped craft Metro’s first official plan – a massive undertaking for a territory that encompassed 13 individual municipalities. Comay envisioned a fully integrated, compact city. "It was just an extraordinary plan – visionary, absolutely brilliant," said John Sewell, who served as Toronto’s reformist mayor from 1978 to 1980. And it served as the basis for a Toronto blueprint a decade later that prophetically warned of unstructured sprawl. But the plan itself was never implemented.

Though he was not a big fan of cars, Comay had become one of the chief proponents of the $80-million Crosstown Expressway, planned as an east-west thoroughfare through central Toronto in the early 1960s. The Crosstown was finally killed off in 1971 – the same year the ill-fated Spadina Expressway was cancelled.

But that was well after Comay had left the planning board to become a private consultant and to teach environmental studies from 1969 to 1992 at York University, where he was regarded as a dedicated and caring teacher.

Free of the public sector’s encumbrances, Comay made lasting marks as a private consultant on planning and social housing in Ontario, and helped with numerous planning studies in Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

It was the report of the Ontario Advisory Task Force on Housing Policy, which he chaired, that led to the creation of the province’s housing ministry in 1973. He also helped form and was the first director of the Ontario Housing Action Program, designed to accelerate affordable residential development in areas outside the core of Metro Toronto.

Grad’s firm serves demand for MS treatment

Lou Dietrich (MBA ’94) is amazed every time he sees a multiple sclerosis patient experience dramatic improvements after having a controversial new treatment, reported the Waterloo Region Record Aug. 17.

"If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe it," said Dietrich, president of Liberation Gateway.

The Waterloo entrepreneur started the company to facilitate MS patients who want the procedure, inspired by a Kitchener woman he met while curling. He had been working on starting a company to arrange elective procedures for patients in Latin America, when Andrea White told him about a promising new treatment for MS patients pioneered by Italian surgeon Paolo Zamboni.

Dietrich saw the hope it gave to patients, along with the frustration of finding a doctor and place capable of doing the procedure. Research led him to Dr. Pramod Kumar in New Delhi, an experienced cardiologist. Before sending any patients to him, Dietrich first had Kumar spend time with a friend of Zamboni who was experienced in treating MS patients.

Dietrich started the company in January, and the first group of patients went to India in June. Most patients come from Canada and a few from the United States. Twenty-five people have gone for a treatment with Kumar through Liberation Gateway, with the third group travelling to India earlier this month and more booked.

Dietrich, who has an MBA from York University, has launched other companies, including most recently an industrial parts distribution business he sold in 2006.

Group plans to help refugees if North Korea implodes

Monday morning, four young Korean-Canadian professionals sat in a trendy espresso bar on Toronto’s Spadina Avenue discussing ways to avert a humanitarian crisis if North Korea implodes, reported the National Post Aug. 17.

Just hours earlier, 86,000 South Korean and US soldiers began their annual war games, code-named Ulchi Freedom Guardian, and North Korea branded the computerized conflict “a grave military provocation aimed at igniting a nuclear war.”

The possibility of having millions of impoverished and frightened North Koreans fleeing their homeland overshadows the three-year-old Toronto group’s discussions.

This week HanVoice will host a three-day international conference in Toronto on North Korean refugees.

"We want to see private sponsorships in Canada increased," said Chris Kim, a third-year law student at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "We’d like to come up with a preliminary agreement to house refugees from North Korea in different countries. As a first step we want to come up with a working group to look at the issue."

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, talked about General Motors climbing back from the brink of ruin with this week’s initial public offering of shares, on CTV News Aug. 16.
  • York philanthropist Seymour Schulich picked up the tab for the new Harris Learning Library at Nipissing University in North Bay, reported CICI-TV in Sudbury Aug. 16. 
  • Folks up at York University are tearing down tonight following a pretty successful run at the top men’s tennis tournament in Canada, reported CBC News Aug. 16.