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Fear, fearlessness and animal extinction

Communiqués image test - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 13:14

Too much fear can be dangerous for species’ survival. In fact, fear alone, even in the absence of a live predator, can lead to species’ extinction if the population size is small enough suggests a recent study from McGill and Guelph universities. To read: “How fear alone can cause animal extinction”

Digging into data: Toward a new understanding of the Arts

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 23:45

Andrew Piper, William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

By Lauren Jane Heller

While artificial intelligence is infiltrating most areas of our lives and work, many people see it as tool for and of science – largely useful to programmers and data scientists, certainly not for English majors. Andrew Piper, a Faculty of Arts professor in Languages, Literatures and Cultures, is helping bridge the gap between AI research and the humanities, with his focus on data science in literature. Using machine learning to analyze texts, he can hone in on bias, data selection and answer limitless questions about the ways we understand and analyze literature, film and other cultural artifacts.

Piper recently participated in McGill’s AI For Social Good Summer Lab, during which he spoke to the cohort of exclusively female students about using AI to detect gender bias in book reviews, a project he has been working on with students in txtLAB. We sat down with Professor Piper to find out how he got into data science in the first place, and where he sees the marriage of AI and the Arts going in the future.

Could you tell us how you got involved with AI and data science?

Four or five years ago I ended up with a Fellowship from the Mellon Foundation, called the New Directions Fellowship. It was designed so that profs can train themselves in some area. My area was in data science, although at the time it wasn’t quite as common a term as it is now.

In the process of learning how data, computation, and statistics work, the goal was to apply it to my field of study – literary studies. It’s been a really steep learning curve, and a lot of it is coming through good collaborations with colleagues here and at other universities. That’s where things started and they’ve snowballed ever since.

Did you have an idea that you would end up with the focus that you have now, looking at gender bias, or bias in literature?

I don’t think I had a lot of expectations when I started. We knew we had a problem in our field of way too many documents. I gradually realized there was a whole field developing that was trying to approximate how we read, and that’s a really interesting question because what we study in our field is reading.

I was really trying to understand how a computer models a document, or a text. What were the assumptions built into that? How much does that align with where we’ve been? One of the challenges of applying this to literary studies is depending on how you count, we are between two and three thousand years old. Biostats… 20 years? We’re a couple orders of magnitude older than that, so we have enormously long traditions of practices, norms, expectations, beliefs. The question was how to align these things with a very different genealogy. Over time I gradually figured out what tools were better at doing or detecting. Biases are obviously a classic, because they’re just about patterns of usage, and they have very distinct social applications.

Is that important to you? Is using data science to understand our biases and doing something socially useful a part of the driving force behind your work?

It was another thing that got me excited about this work that I hadn’t seen before in my research – social relevance. You get to a certain point in your career where those questions may be more or less important, but where I am now it feels increasingly urgent.

One of the things we’re beginning to look more into is not just the social biases that are encoded in language and texts and creativity, but also where we’re getting things when we study them. A lot of literary studies or what we think about in the history of literature is really from a tiny, select, and elite corpus and community, and that perpetuates a certain mentality.

If you run through an English Major’s system, it’s really hierarchical and focused on taste, quality and value. What computation brings to the field is pushback to that, and asking ‘What about everything else?’ I suspect a lot of the reason we didn’t look out for it is because we just didn’t know how. The nice thing is we now have tools where we can look at hundreds of thousands of fan-fiction documents, or user-generated self-publishing platforms. It’s not just questions of bias but also the bias in how we select things.

How did you decide to look at gender bias in book reports, given the breadth of choice in the field?

The gender bias project was driven by a student, actually. We had done some research on this with a colleague at another university, and she was reading about it and told me of my ethical responsibility to do something about this problem.

It was a crystallizing moment for me, because I had never before thought of advocacy in my research. In the past I worked with 18th century German literature and there’s just not much to advocate for there. I’ve realized in the social sciences they have this whole mediating mechanism about what we do with our research, but then they have policy that looks at how to turn research into action.

I think that’s going to be a new and interesting area for cultural studies. We can analyze these things, but how do you change people’s behaviour? How do you get editors to actually stop choosing more books by men, or stop choosing more books about certain topics when they review books by women? I don’t know the answer to that yet but I think it’s a really interesting problem to solve.

So what led you to get involved with the AI summer lab at McGill then? I noticed you were the only session that involved an Arts professor.

That was an initiative on Angelique Manella’s office’s part (McGill Office of Innovation), and it came out of this idea of popular conceptions of AI can be very skewed and oriented towards certain applications and certain flaws and problems. I think her goal is to restart the conversation around social good – can we use AI for something that seems more beneficial and inclusive? I think she came across the project we had been doing on gender bias in book reviews, and kind of connected the dots, and I was very happy that she did.

When the opportunity came along, I jumped in because it was exactly the type of thing I wanted to participate in, with an audience I was particularly interested in speaking to. It was very clear that she was also trying to address gender imbalances within the industry or field, which is great.

So how are the students who are involved with your lab typically coming to you? Finding out by word of mouth, are they in your classes…?

A little bit of both. Some is definitely word of mouth: a student who’s taken a class will have a friend who’s in computer science, or affiliated with another lab. I teach an introduction to text and data mining every fall to undergrads. The assumption is that if you want to work in the lab you have taken that class or are enrolled in it, so you have some of the basic skills needed to do the work.

I’m also seeing, by collaborating with colleagues and other parts of the university, that there are students who are missing a certain dimension of their interests from the lab they’re associated with, usually in more traditional Computer Science backgrounds and environments.

With my lab, students who are interested in both CS and the arts and humanities can put both together. I think it hits a certain type of student, who’s really not finding that connection on campus, and they get really excited about it. It gets good retention; they get involved, stay involved, stick around, but we don’t have a big population. The combination of students who are interested in computation and literature and culture is not huge right now.

How many is ‘not huge’?

Well my 200-level intro class usually finishes with 18-20 students. I start with a lot more, around 60 students, but they get scared off. It’s not true of my other classes – It’s not just because I’m a terrible teacher [laughs], it’s also the subject matter. It is tricky right now to find students who are comfortable in both domains. That’s a bigger, extrinsic thing to work on, and I don’t really know how to address it. They completely push this idea that there’s the science folks over there, the humanities and arts folks over here. [We should be] creating forums, spaces, initiatives where people just don’t continue to think that way. That’s something I’m really invested in.

Have you had any students who you’ve had that light go on? That they realized it was like learning a language, rather than being just about math?

Yes, and it’s an awesome experience to watch. You can see it when all of a sudden, they realize that taking one book and using it as an example for every book ever written, is a terrible idea. They see all the problems with it, and that [data science] allows them to think more critically about those choices and how to analyze this material. And yes, there’s a lot of challenges on how to get a machine to reflect analytically on what is trying to be understood, but it’s like [learning] a language.

Are there other parts of the humanities that you can think of that this type of research would also be applicable to?

I think wherever there is language and complexity, it’s relevant. We’re using it to analyze fan-fiction, but we’re also using it to analyze TV screenplays, so how people talk in movies and television. We can use it also to analyze spatial relationships in these shows, so where are these things set, what are the biases in terms of domestic setting versus workplace settings? They allow you to do all this kind of critical analysis of culture – how it’s made, how it’s produced. There’s not a corner of humanities where that’s not a problem.

If you’re looking at history, you inevitably have more documents than you could ever read that are available to you to study, so what kind of models do you need to build in order to make assessments about what’s going on in the past? That’s true in anthropology, communication studies, media studies, literary studies…. We all have the same problems. And it’s a new way of trying to tackle those things.

One of my goals is to see this become more interdisciplinary, not just between computer science and the humanities, but more general across the humanities. It’s a shared platform for a shared problem, and it’s really interesting to talk to political science majors about how they analyze parliamentary transcripts, and the types of questions they ask about voter behaviour, or belief systems, which are expressed through language. In the same way we think about novels and authorial creativity, it’s being expressed through language. The underlying models and the questions you can bring are very similar, and it lends itself to more cross-talk.

Brains are more plastic than we thought

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 23:28

Researchers train brains to use different regions for same task

By Shawn Hayward

Practice might not always make perfect, but it’s essential for learning a sport or a musical instrument. It’s also the basis of brain training, an approach that holds potential as a non-invasive therapy to overcome disabilities caused by neurological disease or trauma.

Research at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University (The Neuro) has shown just how adaptive the brain can be, knowledge that could one day be applied to recovery from conditions such as stroke.

Researchers Dave Liu and Christopher Pack have demonstrated that practice can change the way that the brain uses sensory information. In particular, they showed that, depending on the type of training done beforehand, a part of the brain called the area middle temporal (MT) can be either critical for visual perception, or not important at all.

Previous research has shown the area MT is involved in visual motion perception. Damage to area MT causes “motion blindness,” in which patients have clear vision for stationary objects but are unable to see motion. Such deficits are somewhat mysterious, because it is well known that area MT is just one of many brain regions involved in visual motion perception. This suggests that other pathways might be able to compensate in the absence of area MT.

Most studies have examined the function of area MT using a task in which subjects view small dots moving across a screen and indicate how they see the dots moving, because this has been proven to activate area MT. To determine how crucial MT really was for this task, Liu and Pack used a simple trick: They replaced the moving dots with moving lines, which are known to stimulate areas outside area MT more effectively. Surprisingly, subjects who practiced this task were able to perceive visual motion perfectly even when area MT was temporarily inactivated.

On the other hand, subjects who practiced with moving dots exhibited motion blindness when MT was temporarily deactivated. The motion blindness persisted even when the stimulus was switched back to the moving lines, indicating that the effects of practice were very difficult to undo. Indeed, the effects of practice with the moving dot stimuli were detectable for weeks afterwards. The key lesson for brain training is that small differences in the training regimen can lead to profoundly different changes in the brain.

This has potential for future clinical use. Stroke patients, for example, often lose their vision as a result of brain damage caused by lack of blood flow to brain cells. With the correct training stimulus, one day these patients could retrain their brains to use different regions for vision that were not damaged by the stroke.

“Years of basic research have given us a fairly detailed picture of the parts of the brain responsible for vision,” says Christopher Pack, the paper’s senior author. “Individual parts of the cortex are exquisitely sensitive to specific visual features – colors, lines, shapes, motion – so it’s exciting that we might be able to build this knowledge into protocols that aim to increase or decrease the involvement of different brain regions in conscious visual perception, according to the needs of the subject. This is something we’re starting to work on now.”

Their research was published in the journal Neuron on July 19.

 

Brains are more plastic than we thought

Communiqués image test - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 11:32

Practice might not always make perfect, but it’s essential for learning a sport or a musical instrument. It's also the basis of brain training, an approach that holds potential as a non-invasive therapy to overcome disabilities caused by neurological disease or trauma.

Research at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University (The Neuro) has shown just how adaptive the brain can be, knowledge that could one day be applied to recovery from conditions such as stroke.

“Rebalancing society” module launched

Communiqués image test - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 11:02

On the occasion of the High Level Political Forum held on 18 and 19 July at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, PRME in collaboration with McGill University and KEDGE Business School are pleased to announce the launch of a new Sustainability Literacy Test (Sulitest) module based on Henry Mintzberg’s book Rebalancing Society.

John Dobson Foundation makes its largest donation to McGill to support X-1 entrepreneurs

Communiqués image test - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 10:14

The John Dobson Foundation has announced a donation of $2 million dollars – its largest gift to McGill yet – to fund the McGill X-1 Accelerator program run by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship. The donation will support the program now in its third year, as it grows to support entrepreneurs across McGill University.

Mac Paddle Shack opens for paddlers of all ages

McGill Reporter - Tue, 07/18/2017 - 16:28

The new Paddle Shack at Macdonald Campus serves kayakers, paddle boarders and canoeists.

By McGill Reporter Staff

The new Paddle Shack at the Macdonald Campus makes McGill the only Canadian university with an on-campus boat house.

The “Mac Paddle Shack,” which opened July 15, gives paddlers and would-be paddlers a chance to enjoy the waters of Lac St. Louis on a kayak, paddle board (SUP) or in a canoe. Hourly rentals, paddling instruction and paddle board yoga classes are available to the general public, and McGill and John Abbott College communities.

The new facilities are perfect for adventure seekers, water lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and families looking for an active outing. It’s an opportunity to explore some of the most beautiful shoreline on the island of Montreal. Groups, families and individuals are welcome.

Jill Barker, Assistant Director, Athletics and Recreation at Macdonald Campus, worked hard to get the project up and running, and is proud that the new Paddle Shack giving people better access to water sports. As for paddle board yoga, Barker explains:

“In paddle board yoga a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) is used instead of a yoga mat. SUP Yoga forces the body to use more muscles since the board is always moving, even if the water is fairly calm. If you fall you’re in the water, so you just get wet, climb back on and start again. Your yoga practice is done on a paddle board in the water instead of on a mat. It’s challenging, but the environment is unbeatable!”

Adding yet another cool factor is the fact that the Mac Paddle Shack is made of re-purposed shipping containers. The installation also includes boat storage and a soon-to-be-installed dock.

The two 40-foot shipping containers, designed by David Covo of McGill’s School of Architecture, were used for the project. Mitchell McLarnon, a PhD candidate in McGill’s school of Education, and an experienced paddling coach with a Master’s in Outdoor Education, helped set up the program. Paul Guenther of Campus Planning played a key role in advancing the project.

Located right on the waterfront of McGill’s Macdonald Campus in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, the Paddle Shack is directly across from the 211 STM bus stop.

McGill’s Macdonald Campus is situated amidst the verdant fields and forested lands in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, on the west end of Montreal Island, 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of the main campus.

During the season, the shack is open every day from 9 a.m. until dusk.

The McGill Rec app (available at the App Store or Google Play) allows paddlers to book and pay for boat rentals or classes from their mobile device. Bookings can also be made through On-Line Services.

http://macdonaldcampusathletics.ca/

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mcgill-campus-rec/id1242316429?ls=1&mt=8

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.csi.vanguard.mcgill

Keep your eye on the Mac Paddle Shack Facebook page for updates on programs, weather and paddle info.

You can reach staff at the Paddle Shack at macpaddleshack@gmail.com

Keep calm and paddle on!

Crafting a better beer

McGill Reporter - Tue, 07/18/2017 - 10:27

Jaswinder Singh, a professor and researcher in the Department of Plant Science

Canada’s extensive malting and brewing industry could get a further boost from new insight into the science of malting.

In a study published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,  McGill researcher Jaswinder Singh and co-authors describe a new protein, TLP8 (Thaumatin—Like Protein), which manages the amount of β-glucan in barley grains, best known as the vital ingredient of beer. “We found that during grain germination, TLP8 binds to β-glucan and significantly lowers its amount in the barley malt,” says Prof. Singh, of McGill’s Department of Plant Science.

Many brewers know that too much β-glucan, a dietary fibre and key sugar found in barley, can complicate beer brewing and ruin the barrel.

During malting and germination, physiological modifications occur inside barley grains that lead to starch, protein and cell wall sugars such as β-glucan being cut up into smaller pieces, a process known as hydrolysis. If not properly hydrolyzed, β-glucan produces a highly viscous wort, which leads to a slower filtration and haze formation during brewing.

With the right conditions, professor Singh believes that higher concentrations of TLP8 could lower β-glucan levels and improve the brewing process and beer quality.

Over 65 percent of all Canadian malt is exported to more than 20 countries around the world, making Canada the world’s second-largest malt exporter.

“Our findings advance the understanding of the malting process and may provide gains for brewers,” Singh says.

Dobson Foundation donates $2M to support entrepreneurship at McGill

McGill Reporter - Tue, 07/18/2017 - 09:48

Launched in 2015, the McGill X-1 Accelerator is an intensive 10-week summer program designed to accelerate the growth of later-stage McGill startups toward investment readiness and launch.

By Rosalie Nardelli

The John Dobson Foundation has announced a donation of $2 million – its largest gift to McGill yet – to fund the McGill X-1 Accelerator program run by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship. The gift will support the X-1 program, now in its third year, as it grows to support and promote entrepreneurship across McGill.

Ari Kiriazidis, President of the John Dobson Foundation, stated, “the Foundation is delighted to continue Dobson’s long-standing relationship with McGill with what represents one of the largest gifts ever granted by the Foundation’s Board. The Board is extremely proud to be associated with one of the most prestigious universities in Canada through the Dobson Centre and its various programs.”

Randy Kelly, John Dobson’s long-time partner and Chief Executive Officer of Formula Growth, as well as Chairman of the Dobson Foundation, noted,  “McGill was always close to John’s heart and he would be very pleased with the continued commitment.”

Launched in 2015, the McGill X-1 Accelerator is an intensive 10-week summer program designed to accelerate the growth of later-stage McGill startups toward investment readiness and launch. The program runs annually from June to August and is open to teams, of which at least one member must have an affiliation to McGill, either as a student, a recent graduate, or a faculty or staff member. This year’s program has accepted eight McGill teams who are building their business on an idea based on technology or science.

The overall curriculum builds upon the MIT startup methodology of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, an integrated and proven framework for developing an innovation-driven product towards launch.

The McGill X-1 Accelerator culminates with a series of Demo Day events in Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York and San Francisco, where the teams will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to groups of McGill alumni, entrepreneurs and investors.

The donation from the Dobson Foundation comes at a time of crucial development for the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, which resides in the Desautels Faculty of Management. Dean Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou of Desautels remarks, “through the vision and generosity of the John Dobson Foundation, the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship is affirmed as the leading hub for entrepreneurship on campus. In classrooms, research labs, and across the University, McGill is full of ideas and talented individuals driven to innovate. Thanks to this donation, the McGill X-1 Accelerator will catalyze our community of innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Prof. Gregory Vit, Director of the McGill Dobson Centre, notes, “the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship has played a central role in creating young McGill entrepreneurs. Many recent McGill startups have had an important impact on the economies of Montreal and Quebec. This significant gift will ensure that we continue to serve the vibrant entrepreneurship culture at McGill. I’m highly confident that our entrepreneurs, will have a major positive impact on the planet.”

The McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship has grown considerably since its founding in 1988 under the late John Dobson, BCom’64, a known advocate for free enterprise and entrepreneurship.  Since then it has become the hub of entrepreneurial activity at McGill, with a mission to identify, teach and develop world-class entrepreneurs through tailored education, applied entrepreneurial frameworks, and iterative mentorship.  The Centre has played a central role in advancing entrepreneurial innovation and discovery through its flagship annual startup competition, the McGill Dobson Cup, and other initiatives that have followed, including the McGill X-1 Accelerator. Overall, the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship has offered mentorship to more than 2,200 McGill entrepreneurs, and launched more than 125 successful startups that today employ over 1,200 people and have raised over $100 million in venture funding.

Fleuve-Montagne pathway gets official opening

McGill Reporter - Mon, 07/17/2017 - 16:28

South on McTavish Street at the new section of Montreal’s Promenade Fleuve-Montagne. / Photo by Laurie Devine

By Doug Sweet

It rained, of course, as it feels like it has done virtually every day this soggy summer of 2017, but the sprinkles didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of dozens of people who gathered for a pleasant ceremony to unveil one of the largest projects celebrating the City of Montreal’s 375th anniversary this year: the 3.8-kilometre Promenade Fleuve-Montagne, a pedestrian pathway linking the St. Lawrence River and Mount Royal that slices through the heart of McGill’s downtown campus.

Under the cover of a couple of fabric shelters, the crowd sipped lemonade, listened to a jazz trio and munched on hors d’oeuvres before Réal Ménard, standing in for Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre sang the project’s praises and took aim at media reports that have maintained the project is more than $10 million over its original $42.4-million budget, as well as noting that it was completed two months late.

Ménard, who is mayor of the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough and the member of the City’s Executive Committee in charge of sustainability, the environment and major parks, insisted the total cost is only $45.6 million.

The most spectacular part of the promenade is surely the section that runs north from Sherbrooke Street up to the mountain on McTavish Street. Decorative paving stones, planters of various shapes and sizes, a variety of benches and other decorative touches including gardens have transformed the street and offered a much nicer approach to the intersection with Dr. Penfield Avenue, which divides Upper and Lower McTavish.

“I am very happy and touched to take part in this inauguration ceremony to celebrate with you the official opening of this magnificent Promenade Fleuve-Montagne,” said Louis Arseneault, Vice-Principal (Communication and External Relations), who was standing in for Principal Suzanne Fortier. “This is an important moment for Montreal, for Montrealers, and for all who come to visit, whether to study work or enjoy a vacation.”

Arseneault noted that in addition to the two iconic ends of the pathway, the river and the mountain, there lies a third iconic feature: the McGill campus.

“For almost 200 years, McGill University has been a landmark in Montreal’s downtown landscape,” he said. “Its unique heritage buildings and its beautiful green spaces are a treasure that Montrealers and visitors alike can enjoy every day. This Promenade makes them even more accessible and integrated to the city’s fabric.”

Ménard explained that the path, which begins near the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of History and Archaeology at the site where the City was founded in 1642, reflects the history of Montreal and its artistic and architectural heritage – from artifacts of Indigenous people “who were there before us,” to the monument to the founders of Montreal, including Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance, to various merchants, including Henry Birks, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Montreal stock exchange.

He described it as “an open-air museum.”

From giant Muskoka chairs along McGill College Avenue, to the benches on McTavish (as well as the McGill students’ Farmer’s Market, which is located in front of the University Centre and the Brown student services building near the intersection of Dr. Penfield)  there are plenty of places for people to pause and soak up (if that’s appropriate terminology this summer) their surroundings.

“It’s a good example of sustainable development,” Ménard said, describing July 17, 2017, as “an historic day.”

More information about the project can be found on its websites in French and in English.

 

 

 

 

McGill grad Julie Payette Canada’s next Governor General

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 19:33

Julie Payette (BEng86) will be named Canada’s next Governor General as early as July 13. / Photo courtesy of NASA

By McGill Reporter Staff

Former astronaut and McGill grad Julie Payette (BEng86) is to be Canada’s next Governor General. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (BA94) is expected to make the announcement Thursday morning.

Payette will follow David Johnston, who was Principal of McGill from 1979 to 1994, and who has served as Governor General since 2010, into the vice-regal post.

A 53-year-old Montrealer who speaks six languages, Payette, who was Canada’s second woman in space, will be Canada’s 29th Governor General.

The McGill Reporter caught up with Payette a few years ago when she came back to the University to take part in the Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium.

“I’m an engineer through and through,” Payette said in 2012. “I’m a doer and a let’s-put-it-together-type of person who loves to solve problems with existing solutions or devise new solutions for concrete problems. I don’t spend much time worrying about things that don’t work. I fix them.”

Asked what obstacles has she faced over the course of her illustrious career in predominantly male-oriented fields (she’s an engineer, a military pilot and an astronaut, to name but a few of the items on her impressive CV), Payette paused to think.

“When I went to my pre-university physics classes and my engineering classes at McGill, I was often the only girl,” she says. “But I don’t remember thinking much about the [negative] side effects [of being a woman]. I knew I was where I belonged.”

On May 27, 1999, Payette found herself on a seat aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery as it was about to be launched for its nine-day, six-million-mile journey to the International Space Station.

Canadian Space Agency astronauts and McGill alums Julie Payette (BEng’86) and Robert Thirsk (MD’82) pose for a photo in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station in July 2009. / Photo courtesy of NASA

And, after all those years working toward this single goal, what was Payette thinking during the countdown to takeoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida?

“It was not very romantic,” she says with a laugh. “An astronaut has to be very focused – even on the day of your first ever departure to space. There is no room for error and your biggest fear is to not do the job that you’ve been trained to do. My only thought was on achieving my immediate objectives, which, as soon as we got into space eight and half minutes later, meant controlling the system to open the cargo bay doors of the space shuttle which are vital to cool down the electrical system.

“Even when the windows doors opened and I got my first glimpse of the absolutely magnificent view of Earth orbiting at my feet, I didn’t stop and say ‘somebody pinch me’ because I was busy checking at my instruments,” says Payette. “It was only further into the mission that I really started grasping the immense privilege it is to fly and to see the Earth from that wonderful perspective.”

Ten years later, Payette would return to space, this time as the flight engineer on the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the 29th Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. The 16-day mission included travelling 10.5 million kilometres in 248 orbits around the Earth.

 

Time will stand still for Roddick Gates clocks

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 16:06

The clocks on McGill’s iconic Roddick Gates were restored in 2010. / Photo courtesy of the McGill Alumni Online Community

Roddick Gates’ clocks and chimes will be stopped for the summer

By McGill Reporter Staff

The iconic clocks and bells of the Roddick Gates will be turned off during excavations on the lower campus. They will be off until October 2017, when the work is done around the Gates. However, the good news, as the old joke goes, is that the clocks will be right twice a day.

On July 13, the four clock faces and the chimes at the Roddick Gates will be turned off because the electrical panel which powers them has to be removed so contractors can proceed with excavations. It’s all part of the renovation and upgrade project in that area. When the work is finished, the old panel will be replaced.

The Roddick Gates form the iconic main entrance to McGill. They are on Sherbrooke Street and are at the head of the very short and broad McGill College Avenue, which starts at Place Ville-Marie.

The Westminster Chimes that ring in the lower campus every fifteen minutes will not be heard for approximately four months. The Westminster Quarters is the most common name for the clock chime melody used by a set of four bells to chime on each quarter-hour. The chimes are also known as the Cambridge Quarters from its place of origin, the church of St Mary the Great, Cambridge.

On October 1, 2010, for the first time in living memory, the four clocks actually chimed in unison. The clocks and bells had just been restored, thanks to the generosity of retired neurologist and McGill graduate Dr. Joseph Hanaway.

Hanaway (BA ’56, MDCM ’60), a retired neurologist from Missouri, meticulously researched the history of the clock tower. Hanaway discovered Birks of Canada supplied the original mechanisms when the Roddick Gates were erected on Aug. 25, 1925. Working with a Birks representative, Hanaway tracked down a clockmaker in the Boston area who was able to repair the historic machinery.

“He was a punctuality fanatic,” Hanaway said of Roddick. “He’d arrive at a lecture three or four minutes early, wait, and then walk through the door on the dot.” McGill’s Dean of Medicine from 1901-08, Thomas George Roddick was a renowned surgeon who pioneered the use of antisepsis. The Roddick Gates were constructed in his memory with a gift from his widow, Amy Redpath Roddick.

After the 85th anniversary of the Roddick Gates, the clocks and bells were re-started at a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2010. The clocks were water-sealed and satellite-controlled, and the bells were computerized so they can be set to ring on any schedule and at any volume.

“It’s an iconic location for the whole University,” said Jim Nicell, Professor & Dean of Engineering. When Nicell was Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) his building operations staff, led by Gilles McSween, replaced the ancient electrical wiring and took care of numerous other structural upgrades, in preparation for the installation of the new clocks and computer controls. For Nicell the project was in keeping with many other recent efforts by his team “to restore elements of the downtown campus to its former glory.”

 

McGill’s summer reading list

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 15:32

A Woman Reading, Claude Monet, 1872

By Neale McDevitt

We received some solid entries for the Reporter’s first-ever summer reading list. While the list isn’t as extensive as our annual winter holiday version, it does include some excellent offerings. Whether you’re heading off to exotic climes or just planning to spend some quality hammock time in the backyard, we hope you have a wonderful, relaxing summer!

For our annual winter holiday list we usually give a shout out (and a lifetime subscription to the McGill Reporter) to the person who sends in the first submission. This time around Victor Chisholm raised the bar by being the person who gave us the idea to try a summer list.

“I have two items on my summer reading list,” writes Chisholm, Undergraduate Research Officer in the Faculty of Science. “For a few months, I’ve been pecking away at Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. It is giving me a different way to understand the past and the present – but hopefully not our future. For something lighter, I plan to go to the McGill Library and take out a copy of Michel Tremblay’s La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte. How can you resist a title like that? I read another volume from Tremblay’s Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal a few years ago, and so enjoyed reading about the very neighbourhood I live in.”

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Story Time, Knut Ekwall, date unknown.

Local literary fare is also on Claude Lalande’s menu. “This summer, I’ve discovered local author Denis-Martin Chabot, former journalist at Radio-Canada, who wrote a two-part novel series Rue Sainte-Catherine Est.  The first instalment, Métro Beaudry, follows a number of LGBT characters and their families through the 1980’s, as they live or die in the devastating HIV/AIDS crisis,” writes the Assistant Director, Animal Compliance Office. “The second instalment, Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, je ne t’oublierai jamais, follows surviving characters through the 2000’s, starting with the life-changing events of 9/11, 2001, leading to military action in Afghanistan, and covering the ‘before and after legalization’ of same-sex marriage.  Both deep and entertaining, with grave, light, emotional and funny moments, it makes for a great read – in French – about Montreal’s LGBT community.

“I look forward to reading more of his oeuvre, including an upcoming biography of Dave Courage, who survived being shot at the Metropolis, the evening of the election of Pauline Marois as Quebec Premier,” writes Lalande.

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McGill’s Director of Internal Communication, Doug Sweet, is still trying to get caught up with the summer reading he tackled last year. “I’d like to finish Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda, which I started and then put down when something else came along. Also on the list this summer, Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, another doorstop of a historical novel, and John Le Carré’s autobiography, The Pigeon Tunnel, which I’m eager to compare with the much larger biography on him I read a year ago. It’s a title he tried to attach to a number of his novels; he’s finally got it into print.”

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Pause for Thought, Pierre-Auguste Cot, 1870

Like any library staffer worth their salt, Melissa Como makes sure to include the call numbers of her summer selections.

“David Lynch: Interviews, edited by Richard A. Barney (PN1998.3 L96 D48 2009),” she writes with the precision befitting the Head Library Clerk, Rare Books, Special Collections & Archives. “This is my summer of Lynch. The new Twin Peaks is good. I have to watch Blue Velvet for the hundredth time. I just listened to every podcast he’s ever appeared on. And now I will read this book. He’s funny, intense and absolutely obsessed with coffee and transcendental meditation.

Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, edited by David L. Ulin (PS572 L6 W74 2002), is Como’s other choice.

“Lynchian Los Angeles is often represented through a surreal, nightmarish landscape but the man genuinely loves living there,” she says. “He once described its light as being ‘critical’ to his happiness. In this anthology, over seventy authors go on and on about that magical light and I could probably read about it forever.”

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“Having begun my summer with Dr. Robert Garland’s The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World, (which is absolutely fantastic in both paper and audiobook form) it seems as though my summer reading list has become a bit more Roman-centric,” says Audrey St-Yves, a Master’s student in Animal Science.

“I’m currently reading Donna Gillespie’s Lady of Light, a novel which chronicles the difficult relationship between the Roman Empire and the Germanic Tribes,” she continues.

The Roman theme will continue with Next Margaret George’s The Confessions of a Young Nero. “George is one of the best historical fiction authors,” says St-Yves. “This is her first exploration of the emperors of Rome, but I trust that it will be a superb  and exciting page-turner.

Finally, St-Yves will tackle Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network and Michael J. Sullivan’s Rise of Empire, “just to wrap up the summer with a bit of mystery, intrigue, and epic drama!”

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Children Reading, Hugo Salmson, second half 1800s.

Like a number of contributors to our summer reading list, Abida Subhan, Department of Animal Science and Department of Natural Resource Sciences, has also submitted to our annual winter holiday reading list.

Subhan will tackle Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, “too try and understand, to some extent, our neighbours to the South,” she says.

She also wants to finish Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, by Zarqa Nawaz, who also wrote for the Little Mosque on the Prairie. “I am in the process of the reading it, quite funny, I have actually laughed out loud quite frequently,” says Subhan.

Finally, she will read Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah, because she is “interested in the theme of the book.”

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“Author Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich recently wrote ‘[A book] will make you think. It will force you to argue with it. At times it will likely make you want to hurl it across a room; at others, it will make you exclaim in agreement. [The author’s] not here to reify your own thinking on the subject; she’s offering hers, for you to do with what you will. One thing you *can’t* do is simply dismiss it, because it will provoke strong thoughts and feelings, and unsettle you. That’s my definition of a great book: one that gets under your skin, one you can’t ignore,’” writes Kendra Gray, Internships Officer, Office of Student Academic Services for the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“In that spirit, I am looking forward to engaging with the following.  The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich; Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler); The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper; Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; The Foundation Pitt, by Andrei Platonov; Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, by  Jessa Crispin); and Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Ahktiorskaya.

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Isle of Shoals, Childe Hassam, 1892

Lynn Mark begins her submission with just the right amount of flattery directed toward the curators of the reading list. “I love this McGill Reporter article, and comb through it every year for my next read!” writes University Advancement’s Senior Advisor, Leaders Alliance.

“I’ve already plowed through three of my summer reads – Still Life, by Louise Penny; Ru, by KimThuy; and The Dinner, by Herman Koch,” says Mark. “And I’m going to continue with the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache books – they’re a good pace and addictive! Then I’m heading into outer space with a recommendation from a colleague at University Advancement (Nikki Gear) with the Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson.”

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Jérôme Savaria-Carrière, Business Partnerships and Operations Manager at the School of Continuing Studies, included neat, one-line synopses for each of his three entries.

Daemon, by Daniel Suarez is “a thriller about a computer program wanted to take over the world,” says Savaria-Carrière.

Never Let You Go, by Chevy Stevens is “a novel about a mother and her daughter when their abusing husband/father is released from prison 11 years after killing someone.”

Everything You Want Me to Be, by Mindy Mejia is “a psychological thriller/investigation about a small community, when a superstar-teenage student is found stabbed to death,” says Savaria-Carrière.

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Lesender Mann, Albert Anker, 1909

Anne Leahy, a professor at the School of Religious Studies, also has a trio of books lined up for her summer reading.

Leahy will read The Couturier of Milan, by Ian Hamilton. “The latest in the crime series featuring Ava Lee, a young Chinese Canadian forensic accountant,” writes Leahy. “It’s a great opening into contemporary Chinese business and power structures where most of the action takes place.”

Next, Leahy will tackle Chasing the Flame, by Samantha Power, “a lively account of Sergio Vieira di Mello, high-level UN diplomat who was killed in a bombing in Bagdad,” she says. “ Canadians involved in the major events of the 1990s, South-East Europe, Rwanda, Sudan, East Timor will relate to challenges described in this book.”

Finally, Leahy will read A qui la faute?, de Chrystine Brouillet. “Dans la série de l’enquêteuse Maud Graham. Pour le plaisir de lire une écrivaine de la région de Québec et qui joint les plaisirs de la table aux défis des enquêtes policières.”

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Last word goes to U2 Psychology.student Noor Almamlouk. “Two great fiction reads for the summer are The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, and We Crossed the Bridge and it Trembled, by Wendy Pearlman,” says  Almamlouk. “Another book McGillians should read is Being Mortal, by Dr Atul Gawande, who just received an honorary doctorate from McGill.

Young Man Reading, Octavian Smigelschi, date unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detecting long-term concussion in athletes

Communiqués image test - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 11:43

Lawyers representing both sides in concussion lawsuits against sports leagues may eventually have a new tool at their disposal: a diagnostic signature that uses artificial intelligence to detect brain trauma years after it has occurred. 

Searching for Arctic pollinators

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 10:15

“I am comforted knowing that the field team in Nunavut will have some terrific weeks ahead – full of more flies, some bees and butterflies, and spectacular northern landscapes,” writes Chris Buddle.

By Chris Buddle

The word “pollinator” often evokes images of honey bees and apple trees. But here in the Arctic, pollination is really about tiny flies speeding across the low-growing tundra, seeking Arctic flowers which seldom grow taller than 10 cm. In fact, of the thousand or so insect specimens we have collected off of flowers in the past few days, we have found less than a dozen bumble bees. In the Arctic, small flies do all the heavy lifting when it comes to pollination.

A Hoverfly (Syrphidae) pollinating an Arctic flower. / Photo: Chris Buddle

I’m here in Cambridge Bay (Nunavut) helping out my new graduate student, Vinko Culjak Mathieu, with his first northern field season. Our field sites are about 10 km from the townsite of Cambridge Bay, which is the largest community on the western Arctic islands. It’s a town of nearly 2000 people, and is changing quickly in part because it is the home of the almost-complete Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS); this facility will make Cambridge Bay an even more important hub for Arctic research. I’ve worked up here several times before (mostly for research on ecological monitoring) but this current trip is taking my lab in a new direction since this is our first venture into studying Arctic plant-pollinator communities.

Our field days consist of an early breakfast in our lodging (which is a brand new triplex, affiliated with CHARS), packing up, and either biking or taking ATVs out to our sites. We have been spending seven person-hours at each of our sites, with butterfly nets in hand, catching all the insects that we see pollinating Arctic flowers. We record the plant species and collect the insects (they will be identified in the lab during the winter months).

Graduate student Vinko Culjak Mathieu enjoying his first northern field season.

Vinko will analyze the data to better understand what insect species pollinate what flowers, and whether this changes as the season progresses. Vinko’s goal is to paint a comprehensive picture of the plant-pollinator network in the Arctic – this is important since pollination is a key ecosystem service, and it is critical to understand how insect and plant communities might shift because of climate change.

We have observed many interesting things so far, including the incredible dominance of small-bodied flies as pollinators, including mosquitoes (they are key pollinators up here). Some plants, however, do have their pollen quite well hidden, and only larger flies or an occasional bumble bee can muscle their way in. After our first site is done, we move on to the next site, but not before stopping for a field lunch (sandwiches, apples, and chocolate of course). We watch a few snow buntings fly about, see some Tundra swans off in the distance, and hear the far-away sounds of Sandhill cranes.

The tools of the bug collector’s trade. / Photo: Chris Buddle

Thankfully the weather has been spectacular so far this summer, reaching just about 20 Celsius by mid-day (that is very warm for this far North). There has also been a strong breeze, which helps ward off the ever-hungry mosquitoes. We could do field work 24 hours a day, as the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon this time of year. However, despite the serious fun when collecting insects on the tundra, we do get tired and try to get back to our triplex by 6 pm or so. After dinner we debrief, clean-up, chat, or read, and then do our best to get some sleep (which itself is a challenge as your body senses the constant light, making it tough to shut down).

Unfortunately I’ll be leaving Vinko and his field assistant in another day or so – I have to get home and back to emails, meetings, trees, and nights that are dark! However, I am comforted knowing that the field team in Nunavut will have some terrific weeks ahead – full of more flies, some bees and butterflies, and spectacular northern landscapes.

Chris Buddle has been working at McGill since 2002, in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill’s Macdonald Campus. His research program is focused on the biodiversity and community ecology of insects and spiders, with an emphasis on Arctic systems. Long involved with academic programs and administration, he was appointed as the Dean of Students on August 1, 2016. 

A view of the Arctic tundra. / Photo: Chris Buddle

Martha Crago comes home to McGill as VP, Research and Innovation

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 08:46

“I would like to continue to build McGill’s remarkable research strengths by setting goals and working with colleagues committed to excellence, excitement, originality, and innovation as well as transparency and integrity of process,” says Prof. Martha Crago, new Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation.

By Meaghan Thurston

Prof. Martha Crago began her term as Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation, on July 1. Prof. Crago is certainly no stranger to McGill. She completed her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at McGill, worked as a professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and was Dean of Graduate Studies, as well as the Associate Provost (Academic Programs). Prior to returning to McGill, Prof. Crago was Vice-President of International and Governmental Relations at the Université de Montreal and the Vice-President (Research) and Professor in Human Communication Disorders at Dalhousie University.

In 2016, the Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, invited her to join the federal panel reviewing the state of the funding of fundamental research in Canada. Described as the most comprehensive review of Canada’s research funding ecosystem in four decades, the report produced by the panel reinforces the underlying urgency felt among university leaders and administrators to improve the federal funding ecosystem. The Reporter sat down with Prof. Crago to talk about fundamental research in Canada, her vision for McGill, as well as what it feels like to “come home” to the University she loves.

What motivated you to return to your alma mater?

It is often said that one cannot return home. I left McGill to expand my scope of knowledge and experience but my strong loyalty to this university has never lagged. My colleagues at Dalhousie can attest to this. They often jokingly complained to me by saying, “Oh no, there you go again, talking about McGill.” I was motivated to return to McGill because I think I now have the proper skills and experience to make a positive difference for my alma mater, for Quebec and for Canada. I would like to continue to build McGill’s remarkable research strengths by setting goals and working with colleagues committed to excellence, excitement, originality, and innovation as well as transparency and integrity of process.

What did you learn from the experience of participating in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review and what did you contribute to the process?

Participating in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review was an honour. I believe that my wide-ranging experience gained as a Vice-President of Research was a significant contribution to the panel’s work. I know about the way each of the federal funding agencies work, as well as much about various international funding agencies and their programs. Of the many lines of inquiry possible, the panel focused on what must be in place for the complex funding ecosystem in Canada to achieve ideal results, and where are the current gaps in opportunity? We surveyed the changes over the 40 years since the previous report and outlined which issues persist and what new ones need attention. The panel also considered whether the degree of support received by fundamental researchers in Canada, as well as how the various funding bodies support researchers at the different stages of their careers, is adequate. As you can see in the report, we calibrated down to a penny how much money the nation needs over the next few years to invest in talent and in the full support of fundamental research, in order to remain competitive internationally.

Are you optimistic that the recommendations will be implemented?

We designed the recommendations to play out over time. As a whole, our recommendations make the case for why fundamental research is so important. The mission of the panel was to help the government shape well-informed policy, understanding that politicians operate in an entirely different environment than university administrators and researchers. It was our hope that by implementing some of the recommendations in the report, the government and academia can better collaborate in the interest of all Canadians.

What is your vision for research and innovation at McGill?

McGill is very strong in fundamental research and has been so since its inception. At the same time, McGill, like many universities across the nation, is working on an innovation agenda. In my mind, the imperatives to support fundamental research as well as innovation are not oppositional. Fundamental research leads to the discovery of new ideas.  Innovation turns those good ideas into improvements in people’s economic wellbeing through the development of new processes, products and services.  This leads to job creation.  The importance of the role of a university in the economic agenda really hits home when you live in a province like Nova Scotia, where the economy and in consequence research funding is severely constrained.  What I learned from my involvement in shaping an economic and innovation action plan for the province of Nova Scotia is that universities can play an important role in the social and economic environment in which they exist.

You’ve completed your first week on the job. How does it feel to be back at McGill?

Every time I walk across campus, I meet old friends, from facilities staff to senior administrators. The thought that has been running through my mind all week is, “Wow, this is where I belong!”

 

Science meets art – on a wall in Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 08:21

Endocrinology by prominent Montreal artist Marian Dale Scott graces the second-floor conference room in Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry.

By McGill Reporter Staff

A large avant-garde science mural by the prominent artist Marian Dale Scott is being painstakingly restored in the Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry Building.

In June 1943, Scott unveiled Endocrinology, a commission by the famed Hungarian-born scientist Hans Selye.

Selye asked Scott to paint on a wall of the second floor reading room in what was then the Histology Department. The result was an unusual representation of what was known about the endocrine system, using a style called biomorphism. A central nude figure represents “the searcher,” marvelling at the interconnected network of the main endocrine glands. Scott’s painting was a dramatic departure from the way science was presented in art at the time. Contrary to other paintings about scientific research, Scott’s painting places an emphasis on the research itself, not the heroic scientist.

Catherine LaRivière is the Rosalind Goodman Arts Research Intern who has been putting together a history of the mural. “Marian Dale Scott was interested in themes outside the norm of the time. When her colleagues were doing landscapes she was doing work on a much larger canvas, more like what was being done in Europe and elsewhere,” says LaRivière. “She was distinctly modern in her approach.”

Marian Dale Scott (née Dale, June 26, 1906 – November 28, 1993) was a prominent member of Montreal society, and one of the generation of women who were determined to attend university or practice as professional artists. She is considered a pioneer of modern art in Canada and was among the first students at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1924. She then went off to London to study at the Slade School of Art. When she got back to Montreal in 1928 she married the legendary poet and McGill law professor F. R. Scott.

Scott’s life is like a précis of the last century. She was active in anti-fascist movements in the 1930s, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, pre-cursor to the New Democratic Party, which her husband co-founded. She taught art to disadvantaged children as part of the Children’s Creative Arts Centre set up by her close friend Norman Bethune in 1936.

As an artist, in the 1940s she turned toward abstraction, seeking inspiration in scientific literature. In the 1950s she campaigned against nuclear weapons, and in the 1960s opposed the Vietnam War. Her art continued to evolve as she continued to explore new techniques using flat plane of color with no reference to realistic subject matter and even painting with her hands.

Scott was a founding member of the short-lived but influential Contemporary Arts Society of Montreal (Société d’art contemporain, 1939–48), and was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1973. She taught art at St. George’s School, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and at Macdonald College.

The mural in Strathcona represents the culmination of an intense two-year collaboration between Scott and Dr. Hans Selye (1907–82), considered to be the father of the field of stress research. Scott studied the anatomical, histological and biochemical elements of stress research. She also familiarized herself with the principles of scientific investigation.

The mural measures 12 by 16 feet covering the entire wall and it is being restored by Legris Conservation, with funding from the Lang family.

“We are stabilizing the work,” says David Legris. “Some of the problem is delamination, where the oil paint that was applied to the primer on the wall is actually lifting. The care of a mural is often complex as the aging of the paint, changes in a building’s fabric, and other factors all contribute to conditions that may lead to delamination or other issues.”

Endocrinology was created and painted between 1941 and 1943 and is located in the second-floor conference room in Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry. The mural is usually viewable upon request, though it is sometimes included in weekly tours of the university’s art collection.

McGill University owns 14 of Marian Dale Scott’s pieces. With the support of Scott’s family, Visual Arts Collection Director Gwendolyn Owens and Intern Catherine LaRivière have embarked on an ambitious research project hoping to advance scholarship on the artist. They hope to produce a book and ideally an exhibition, which will look at Scott’s work in the larger context of avant-garde painting.

How a few drops of blood led to a breakthrough in immunology

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 06:47

Dr. Ciriaco Piccirillo, immunologist and senior scientist in the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in the Global Health Program at the RI-MUHC.

Researchers pinpoint the roles of FOXP3 – a key gene in the regulation of our immune system

By MUHC Public Affairs

Scientists from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) may have cracked the code to understanding the function of special cells called regulatory T Cells. Treg cells, as they are often known, control and regulate our immune system to prevent excessive reactions. The findings, published in Science Immunology, could have a major impact in our understanding and treatment of all autoimmune diseases and most chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, Crohn’s disease as well as broader conditions such as asthma, allergies and cancer.

Researchers made this discovery by investigating a rare human mutation in a gene called FOXP3. Although the importance of the FOXP3 gene in the proper function of Treg cells has been well documented, its mechanisms were still not fully understood by scientists.

“We discovered that this mutation in the FOXP3 gene affects the Treg cell’s ability to dampen the immune response, which results in the immune system overreacting and causing inflammation,” explains the study’s lead author, Dr. Ciriaco Piccirillo, immunologist and senior scientist in the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in the Global Health Program at the RI-MUHC, and a professor of Immunology at McGill University. “This discovery gives us key insights on how Treg cells are born and how they can be regulated.”

Thanks to an international collaboration and cutting-edge technology from the Immunophenotyping Platform at the RI-MUHC, the team was able to make their discovery using only a few drops of blood from a five-week-old newborn boy who died in 2009 from a rare and often fatal inherited genetic immune disorder called IPEX. In the past 40 years, fewer than 200 cases of IPEX have been identified worldwide. Over 60 different mutations of the FOXP3 gene are known to cause IPEX and believed to result in non-functional Treg Cells.

“What was unique about this case of IPEX was that the patient’s Treg cells were fully functional apart from one crucial element: its ability to shut down the inflammatory response,” says Dr. Piccirillo.

“Understanding this specific mutation has allowed us to shed light on how many milder forms of chronic inflammatory diseases or autoimmune diseases could be linked to alterations in FOXP3 functions,” adds the study’s first author, Khalid Bin Dhuban, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Piccirillo’s laboratory.

From fundamental biology to clinical treatment

Dr. Piccirillo and his colleagues have already developed a molecule that could restore the Treg cells’ ability to control the immune system for patients with the same rare mutation. The drug has been tested in animal models and the researchers are hopeful they can also develop similar drugs that will apply for other conditions where Treg cells are known to be slightly defective such as arthritis, type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus.

“Currently, we have to shut down the whole immune system with aggressive suppressive therapies in various autoimmune and inflammatory diseases,” explains Dr. Piccirillo. Our goal is to increase the activity of these Treg cells in certain settings, such as autoimmune diseases, but we want to turn it down in other settings, such as cancer. With this discovery, we are taking a big step in the right direction.”

Dr. Piccirillo is also the director of the Centre of Excellence in Translational Immunology (CETI), a newly established research coalition based at the Research Institute of the MUHC that fosters linkages among biomedical investigators and clinicians for interdisciplinary immunology research focused on the understanding and treatment of immune-based diseases.

What are Regulatory T Cells?

Treg cells are a special kind of white blood cells or lymphocytes that prevent other immune cells from attacking the body’s own tissues, as well as controlling immune responses against microbes and other non-pathogenic agents, such as pollen, dust or benign food groups. This is an important “self-check” built into the immune system to prevent excessive reactions.

 

Reopening of McTavish and Dr. Penfield

McGill Reporter - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 06:16

(La version française suit.)

The following is a message from Robert Couvrette, Associate Vice-Principal (Facilities Management and Ancillary Services) 

I am delighted to inform you that the City of Montreal’s major construction projects around the downtown campus are very close to being finished.

Already, Sherbrooke Street, from University Street/Robert-Bourassa Boulevard to Peel Street, has been completely redone and opened to traffic. Lower McTavish Street, from Sherbrooke to Dr. Penfield, should be completed in the coming days, while Upper McTavish, from Dr. Penfield to Pine Ave., is done.

Dr. Penfield has been partially reopened to traffic and, once a final coat of asphalt is laid sometime this week, should be then fully open. The two staircases at the top end of Lower McTavish are nearing completion as well.

After months of work and much disruption, the results are, frankly, spectacular. McTavish is a key link in the City of Montreal’s Promenade Fleuve-Montagne project to create a pedestrian pathway from the St. Lawrence River to Mount Royal. McTavish, which remains under the City of Montreal’s jurisdiction and continues to be pedestrian-only (which also means no bicycle riding), has been enhanced with benches and plantings along its length. It is a welcome addition to our downtown campus.

A ceremony will be held on July 17, 2017, near the Bronfman Building, at the corner of Sherbrooke and McTavish, to officially inaugurate the Promenade.

Please note that the Thursday Farmers’ Market has returned to McTavish Street. It will be set up next to the Bronfman Building this Thursday, July 13, and will then return to its permanent location in front of the University Centre and the Brown Building, near the upper end of Lower McTavish, during the July 17 event and for the rest of the season.

While this long project is finally complete, I want to remind you that there is still considerable construction activity taking place on the lower downtown campus and I ask that you remain especially vigilant as there is a lot of heavy equipment moving around. Please obey all signs and security agents and consider removing your earphones while walking on the roads of the lower campus so you can hear backup signals or other warnings.

If you have a concern or comment about any of the current construction projects, you can communicate it by email to construction.feedback@mcgill.ca. If you witness or are involved in an emergency situation, please call 514 398-3000 immediately.

As always, you can visit this website for a map and background information on the University’s construction projects. For more information on the City of Montreal’s construction projects, please visit this website.

Robert Couvrette

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Réouverture de la rue McTavish et de l’avenue du Docteur-Penfield

Un message de Robert Couvrette, vice-principal adjoint (gestion des installations et services auxiliaires)

Je suis très heureux de vous informer que les projets de construction de la Ville de Montréal à proximité du campus du centre-ville sont sur le point de se conclure.

Entièrement reconstruite, la rue Sherbrooke, de la rue University/boulevard Robert-Bourassa à la rue Peel, est maintenant rouverte à la circulation. Les travaux apportés à la partie inférieure de la rue McTavish, soit de la rue Sherbrooke à l’avenue du Docteur-Penfield, doivent prendre fin au cours des prochains jours. La réfection de la partie supérieure de la rue McTavish, de l’avenue du Docteur-Penfield à l’avenue des Pins, est quant à elle entièrement terminée.

L’avenue du Docteur-Penfield est partiellement rouverte à la circulation. Une fois l’asphaltage terminé – ce qui devrait avoir lieu cette semaine – les voitures pourront circuler sur la totalité de l’avenue. De plus, les deux escaliers situés à l’angle de l’avenue du Docteur-Penfield et de la rue McTavish seront également accessibles sous peu.

Si ces longs travaux ont occasionné de nombreux inconvénients, nous pouvons désormais en admirer les résultats exceptionnels. La rue McTavish, qui a été agrémentée de bancs et d’arbustes, est l’un des liens clés du projet de la Promenade urbaine Fleuve-Montage de la Ville de Montréal, lequel consiste à créer une voie piétonnière, du fleuve Saint-Laurent au mont Royal. La promenade enjolive le campus du centre-ville de l’Université. La rue McTavish demeure sous l’autorité de la Ville de Montréal et uniquement accessible aux piétons (ce qui veut dire que les cyclistes ne peuvent y circuler).

Une cérémonie visant à souligner l’inauguration officielle de la Promenade aura lieu le 17 juillet prochain, à proximité du Pavillon Bronfman, à l’angle des rues Sherbrooke et McTavish.

Vous aurez peut-être remarqué que le Marché fermier du jeudi est de retour sur la rue McTavish. Ce jeudi 13 juillet, les kiosques seront installés près du Pavillon Bronfman. Le lundi 17 juillet prochain, à l’occasion de l’inauguration de la Promenade, ainsi que pour le reste de la saison, on retrouvera le Marché à son emplacement permanent, près du Centre universitaire et du Pavillon Brown, un peu plus au nord sur la rue McTavish.

Bien que ce projet d’envergure soit maintenant terminé, d’importantes activités de construction sont néanmoins en cours dans la section inférieure du campus du centre-ville. Ainsi, je vous invite à demeurer très vigilants et à prêter une attention particulière à la machinerie lourde. Nous vous prions de respecter l’ensemble des panneaux et des directives données par les agents de sécurité et vous suggérons de retirer vos écouteurs lorsque vous vous déplacez sur le campus afin d’entendre les signaux avertisseurs, notamment ceux indiquant les manœuvres de recul.

N’hésitez pas à soumettre vos questions et vos commentaires par courriel à construction.feedback@mcgill.ca. En cas d’urgence, veuillez téléphoner au 514 398-3000 sans tarder.

Pour obtenir de plus amples renseignements sur les travaux de l’Université, veuillez consulter notre site Web. Pour plus d’information sur les travaux de la Ville de Montréal, veuillez cliquer sur ce lien.

Robert Couvrette

 

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