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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

The musical brain

When he came to Montreal in July for a reunion with the Police, Sting met with McGill neuroscientist and best-selling author of "This is Your Brain on Music," Daniel Levitin.

Published: 7 Jan 2008

The Iowa caucuses

Presidential expert and McGill history professor Gil Troy provides analysis of the U.S. presidential race in a series for La Presse, beginning with the Iowa caucuses.

Published: 7 Jan 2008

Paris Hilton: Actress, author... analgesic?

Neuroscientists have found that a cardboard cutout of the ubiquitous Hilton Hotel heiress has a painkilling effect on mice. Jeffrey Mogil of McGill and his colleagues noticed that male mice showed signs of less pain when a scientist was present, so, to investigate whether it was the sight or smell of a human that caused the effect, the researchers acquired a promotional cardboard cutout of Hilton. Paris's effect appeared to be gender-specific. Male mice spent less time licking their wounds when fake Paris was in sight, but females showed no such effect. When the team put up a screen to block the rodents' view, the effect went away. The researchers reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Published: 10 Dec 2007

Wonder pigs

Researchers at McGill say they have achieved a Canadian first by successfully producing three litters of cloned pigs, an event that may help advance research into human ailments such as diabetes. "It gives us the opportunity to create animals from cell lines that can be easily manipulated in vitro," said Dr. Vilceu Bordignon, director of the Large Animal Research Unit at McGill's Macdonald campus. "It could even lead to the development of new cell therapies for genetic diseases in humans."

Published: 6 Dec 2007

"La mondialisation et l'enseignement du droit"

Dean Nicholas Kasirer of the Faculty of Law appeared on the French national radio network France Culture as the special guest of a program devoted to law and public affairs, "Le bien commun." The topic of the hour-long program, hosted by Antoine Garapon, was "la mondialisation et l'enseignement du droit" and concerned among other things how McGill's transsystemic program of teaching common law and civil law might serve as a model for legal education in France and internationally. The broadcast is available as a podcast .

Published: 5 Dec 2007

Green chemistry

McGill civil engineering professor Jim Nicell, chemical engineering professor David Cooper and colleagues are hoping to develop an environmentally friendly plasticizer, the ingredient that makes plastics soft and flexible, to be added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Published: 5 Dec 2007