In the Headlines news
McGill's Daniel Levitin continues to garner media attention with an article appearing in last month's Rolling Stone magazine, the London Daily Telegraph's Sunday Magazine and, more recently, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. The producer-turned-neuroscientist Levitin is trying to understand why and how music moves us.
Robert Lang, one of the world's top origami masters, comes to McGill next week, where he'll construct the model of a giant pteranodon. Lang's pteranodon should be ready for permanent installation alongside the dinosaur in the main gallery of the Redpath Museum by the end of the week. To benefit the museum, McGill hopes to sell a limited number of Lang's mini-pteranodons in a silent auction.
A 68-million-year-old T-Rex thigh bone find ties the King of Dinosaurs to modern-day species, with its soft tissue most closely matching that of chickens. "I'd call it a milestone," says paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill. "Dinosaurs will enter the field of molecular biology and really slingshot paleontology into the modern world."
Canadian researchers have discovered a gene mutation that actually improves long-term memory and could eventually lead to a memory-enhancing pill. Working with mice, lead researcher Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a postgraduate fellow at McGill, and colleagues found that rodents that had a defective version of a gene that produces a memory-blocking protein could learn and remember tasks faster than normal mice.
Researchers at McGill have identified a gene that causes the developmental disorder spina bifida, the second most prevalent birth defect after cardiac abnormalities. The discovery is expected to aid in the diagnosis of the condition, which in its most severe form can lead to crippling disabilities. "We've known for years that there's a genetic component, and now we've discovered one of the culprits," said Philippe Gros, the biochemistry professor who led the team in co-operation with researchers at the Instituto Giannina Gaslini in Genoa, Italy.
"Canada is finally recognizing that despite even the most aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, some climate change will continue to occur and we need to plan to adapt." James Ford, post-doctoral fellow in the geography department at McGill, is co-author in this letter to the Toronto Star on how Canada must prepare now for extreme temperatures in summer, increased storm activity, flooding and ice storms.
Below a certain frequency threshold, the quantum fluctuations of empty space may contribute to dark energy -- much the way some materials become superconductors below a critical temperature. In 2004, Michael Mackey, of McGill's Centre for Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology and Medicine (Associate member in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics and the Department of Physics), and Christian Beck of Queen Mary, University of London, claimed that the quantum fluctuations of empty space could be the source of dark energy and suggested a test for this idea. They didn't know then why it might work, but now the pair has come up with the theory behind the experiment.
The battle over creationism in the classroom is not unique to small-town America, prominent Canadian biologists warn. It's creeping into this country's public school science classes and it's up to parents to do something about it. Brian Alters, director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill, is interviewed in the Toronto Star.
For graduate students, it's getting ever easier to be green, thanks to an interdisciplinary newcomer called sustainability science by some, and sustainable development by others. The challenge of figuring out how to keep the world in balance is now a boom area. Navin Ramankutty is an assistant professor at McGill, where he is helping launch a new undergraduate Earth System Science initiative. Is there a graduate program down the line? "We're talking, but one thing at a time." His students are interested, and so are others, around the country and the world.
Engineers Without Borders promotes human development through access to technology. With a 24-hour bike-a-thon underway, McGill is to send three junior fellowship students to Ghana this summer to help with such projects as improved hygiene and better farming methods. The bike-a-thon is one of its main fundraising efforts at McGill.
The deaths of at least 14 cats and dogs from what appears to be tainted pet food have spurred more than a half-dozen class-action lawsuits. And along with money for vet bills, and the cost of the 60 million tins of recalled food, many are seeking added damages for owners' pain and suffering. Courts across North America already factor in the value of companionship in many different types of human relationships. Now the time might be ripe for similar calculations about animal friendship, says Wendy Adams, a McGill law professor. "There's a strong argument," she says. "You're not going to be laughed out of court."
Two McGill researchers -- a legal expert and a civil engineering professor -- are among the five recipients of this year's $100,000 Killam prizes for outstanding career achievement in research. Roderick Macdonald is the F.R. Scott Professor of Constitutional and Public Law and A.P.S. (Patrick) Selvadurai is William Scott Professor and James McGill Professor in McGill's Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics.
"It's about trying to help students to seek, discover, to confront the world with wide-eyed wonder." In awarding the Killam prize, Rod Macdonald was hailed by the Killam jury as one of the country's "most influential public intellectuals." Macdonald's main focus is on teaching, and during his six years as McGill's dean of law he made it a rule never to hire anyone who said they'd rather practise law than teach.
"Quebec has arguably the strongest animal welfare legislation in Canada, but its record of enforcement is one of the worst." Professor Wendy Adams, who teaches a course on animal law at the Faculty of Law at McGill, comments in the Gazette on allowing an alleged puppy mill to continue operating.