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Disease diagnostics: Third-harmonic generation reveals malarial infection

Canadian researchers have developed a technique that relies on nonlinear optical effects to detect the existence and extent of the malaria parasite in human blood. The advance offers the promise of low-cost, self-contained, field-portable kits to diagnose the disease effectively in regions where it is endemic and qualified technicians are rare. A team led by Paul Wiseman, associate professor of chemistry and physics at McGill University has proposed a far less labour-intensive method to achieve the same result. It relies on the nonlinear optical effect known as third-harmonic generation.

Published: 14 Mar 2008

Language experts disagree

McGill researcher Fred Genesee, one of the country's leading language experts, says the research is indisputable - the earlier a child begins studying French, the more likely it is to sink in. Genesee's advice, and that of other experts in the field, harshly contradicts recommendations in the highly controversial French second-language report released last week in New Brunswick by the Department of Education.

Published: 8 Mar 2008

Enough! (For most of us)

While we shovel it, Ron Stewart studies it. Stewart is the director of McGill's Extreme Weather study group, and for him and his colleagues, our snowbound city is one big lab. "I enjoy a storm," Stewart enthused yesterday. "Looking at ice pellets on my sleeves on Wednesday, looking at the kind of crystals coming down - it's like a laboratory for me."

Published: 7 Mar 2008

Shaping the future

Plastic Knowledge, a McGill spin-off company, has made the first flexible plastic display with the circuitry embedded in the screen itself. That means the computer and the screen are one and the same. And it's fully flexible. "We like to say we're breaking the glass ceiling on displays," said Mark Andrews, the firm's chief technology officer and a McGill scientist.

Published: 26 Feb 2008

Some good ideas for fixing medicare

Antonia Maioni, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, writes in an op-ed in the Gazette: "The report of Claude Castonguay's working group on health-care financing was released last week to a great hue and cry across Quebec. In the rush to sink the report like a stone, we might be overlooking the fact that a good portion of it actually addresses the organizational aspects of the health-care system. Regardless of where they stand on the issue of health-care privatization, most Quebecers would agree that organizational reform is very much needed."

Published: 26 Feb 2008

The music illusion

As part of a special issue on music for New Scientist magazine, McGill neuroscientist Daniel Levitin pens "The Music Illusion," which looks at auditory illusions and how they can help us understand the workings of the human brain.

Published: 24 Feb 2008

Powerful explosions suggest neutron star is missing link

Observations from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) have revealed that the youngest known pulsing neutron star has thrown a temper tantrum. The collapsed star occasionally unleashes powerful bursts of X-rays, which are forcing astronomers to rethink the life cycle of neutron stars. "We are watching one type of neutron star literally change into another right before our very eyes. This is a long-sought missing link between different types of pulsars," says Fotis Gavriil of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Gavriil is lead author of a paper in the February 21 issue of Sciencexpress. McGill's Vicky Kaspi is a co-author of the paper, as well as Marjorie Gonzalez, who worked on the paper at McGill but is now based at the University of British Columbia.

Published: 21 Feb 2008

Reconciling counter-culture with copyright

With his dual role as Brazilian minister of culture and as a touring music star, Gilberto Gil can reconcile the great divide of the 21st century: the people's hunger for free culture on the Internet and the artists who make a living from it. "This is a political movement much like the counter-cultural movement of the 60s," he told a jam-packed room on Friday at the closing of McGill University's three-day conference on Canadian identity called "Are We American?"

Published: 16 Feb 2008

Immune system could be turbocharged to fight disease

Researchers at McGill have discovered a way to boost an organism's natural anti-virus defences, effectively making its cells immune to influenza and other viruses. The research was conducted by postdoctoral fellows Dr. Rodney Colina and Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, working in collaboration with Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Scholar at McGill. They worked with colleagues at the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) and the Ottawa Health Research Institute (OHRI). Their results were published February 13 in the journal Nature.

Published: 14 Feb 2008

Study suggests military members don't get help for mental problems

A new survey of active and reserve members of the Canadian Forces suggests many soldiers don't seek help for mental disorders and such problems as alcoholism. The study of 8,441 soldiers was carried out during the last year by McGill, Université de Montréal, Dalhousie and the University of PEI. It was released in Montreal yesterday and will be published in the February edition of the research journal "Medical Care." Lead study author Deniz Fikretoglu says more than half of military members with a mental disorder don't seek treatment.

Published: 13 Feb 2008

Are we American?

Examining the nature of star making in Canada will be just one piece of the puzzle when academics, policy makers, media celebrities and industry executives gather at McGill this week for "Are We American?" a conference to discuss culture at the crossroads in the age of globalization, the Internet and the iPod. Will Straw, communications professor and acting director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said he was curious to see how changing immigration patterns, the North American Free Trade Agreement and globalization are reshaping both the Canadian cultural identity and those of its nearest neighbours. From Feb. 13-15 at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal, the conference gathers together some heavy hitters in arts, policy making, media, academia and business from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, all of whom are currently involved in Canadian cultural products and their circulation throughout North America.

Published: 12 Feb 2008

Farmland eating up the world's wildernesses

More than a third of Earth's ice-free land area is now being used for farming. McGill's Navin Ramankutty and colleagues compared agricultural inventories from all countries with satellite land-cover data for the same areas, and wrote a computer program to recognize pasture and crop land. They estimate that 28 million square kilometres (22 per cent) of ice-free land surface is covered in pasture and 15 million square km (12 per cent) is used to grow crops. Their 10-km-resolution maps provide the most detailed and accurate figures to date.

Published: 11 Feb 2008

Learning to lie

Kids lie early, often and for all sorts of reasons -- to avoid punishment, to bond with friends, to gain a sense of control. But now there's a singular theory for one way this habit develops: They are just copying their parents. New York Magazine interviews Dr. Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at McGill and a leading expert on children's lying behaviour.

Published: 10 Feb 2008

Bird brains

New research by a McGill biologist shows that the bigger the bird brain, the better. Biologist Louis Lefebvre has found ways to distinguish the more intelligent of the species. He showed, for instance, that being an omnivore and having the ability to adapt to new environments are associated with a larger cortex and greater intelligence.

Published: 8 Feb 2008

Mangled forests reborn

Ten years after nature unleashed its savagery on Quebec's hardwood forest, experts have discovered heartening news: The forest is doing just fine. "The incredible resilience of the forest gives me hope," says Martin Lechowicz, a professor of biology at McGill and director of the university's Gault Nature Reserve at Mont St. Hilaire. At 1,000 hectares, it is the largest forest in southern Quebec never to have been harvested.

Published: 14 Jan 2008