Chemicals That Changed The World: Uranium

Arguably the most controversial element of the 21st century, uranium is responsible for the generation of green energy via its use as a nuclear reactor fuel, and the construction of nuclear weapons.

Uranium is a silvery white metallic substance with the highest atomic weight of all the naturally occurring elements. Discovered in 1789 by German chemist Martin Klaproth, for the first 145 years following its unearthing it was primarily used for tinting glass neon green and yellow.

Subsequent to the creation of the Manhattan Project, it was exploited for its fissionable chain-reaction properties in pursuit of developing the nuclear bomb. Fission is the process by which an atom is split into two, overcoming the strong nuclear force that binds it together. By breaking this bond, a tremendous amount of energy is released, in heat and radiation.

Uranium’s distinctiveness stems from the fact that the neutron byproducts of its fission can instigate fission in other close by uranium atoms, causing a powerful chain reaction. This reaction can be released all at once, as seen when the “Little Boy” atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It can also be used in a controlled manner, like in the Candu Nuclear Power plant in Pickering, Ontario.

As a nuclear weapon, uranium has no doubt changed the world. However, it has also provided new hope for environmentally-conscious ways of generating electricity, helping confront global warming and reduction of greenhouse gases.

For hire: one world-class university

‘The University has formed some excellent and valuable partnerships with private enterprise in the past. So long as academic freedom is in no way compromised and genuine advantages can be demonstrated in quality or efficiency, the Task Force recommends the expansion of such partnerships in the future.’ —Towards 2030

Who’s voting for corporate partnerships?

Come Oct. 23, Governing Council is bound to vote almost unanimously in favour of more corporate presence at U of T, as outlined in the Towards 2030 plan. The GC vote is the final one needed for the plan to be adopted as the university’s guiding principles.

Perhaps GC’s willingness to give corporations opportunities to fund research at U of T has something to do with the overwhelming corporate presence on the council.

Out of 50 GC members, government appointees, presidential appointees, and alumni make up 26. Government appointees, who are supposed to represent community interest on the council, are selected by the Standing Committee on Government Agencies, comprised almost entirely of Liberal and Conservative MPPs.

This year, as usual, most of them are deeply invested in the corporate world.

Many of the companies represented on GC are already donors at the university. David Asper, of the CanWest family, joined GC this year. Asper gave the university $7.5 million this fall to establish the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the Faculty of Law. Asper is also chairperson of the National Post, which is on the President’s Circle list for its donations to the university.

Some alumni governors are also prominent in the corporate world. The Varsity found at least three of the eight alumni on GC are CEOs or directors in large corporations, in addition to two presidents or owners of one or more smaller companies.

Students, staff, and faculty make up 22 elected spots on GC, and while that cannot form a majority, even these members usually don’t challenge decisions.

Why is private/corporate funding a problem?

According to U of T’s administration, private and corporate funding has no effect on the actual research, because there are policies in place to keep donors at arm’s length from the academics.

However, these same policies were in place when a U of T faculty member was found producing reports tailored to suit the needs of its donor in a water purification study in Wiarton, Ontario in 2001. Federal courts said that funding agency NSERC is not responsible for ensuring academic integrity. Nobody at U of T—not even the professor heading the research—was held accountable for the breach. The same professor later plagiarized from the research of his student, Chris Radziminski, and altered his conclusions to his corporate sponsor’s convenience. This case was quietly settled out of court.

In an earlier case, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and U of T fired David Healy after he claimed in a seminar that Prozac, an anti-depressant produced by a CAMH donor Eli Lilly, might cause suicide in certain patients. Naylor, who was dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the time, refused to carry out a complete investigation into the firing, saying Healy had expressed views that were unscientific.

In 1996 U of T was found dancing to the tune of donor Apotex in the university’s most embarrassing academic freedom case. When Nancy Olivieri, Sick Kids’ Hospital doctor and U of T researcher, came across untold side effects of an Apotex drug, neither the university nor the hospital would do anything about it.

Eventually, citing a health risk, Olivieri breached her confidentiality agreement and published her findings—a move that got her fired. She was eventually reinstated in 1999 when a committee from the Canadian Association of University Teachers concluded that her academic freedom had been infringed. Again, Naylor refused to pursue further investigations.

When asked about these cases, U of T spokesperson Rob Steiner said, “There are a lot of people who say a lot of things that actually don’t match up with the reality of it.”

Corporations and individuals attach their names to projects, and often get the right to first refusal on products coming out of the research, but they only pay on average 20 cents to every dollar that goes into these projects. The portrayal of corporate donations as generosity belies these companies’ interests in profiting from the research they fund.

With files from Hilary Barlow

Brain food for the exam time crunch

In the midst of October midterms, it’s difficult to find the time to eat healthy. Though wholesome meal and snack options are usually low on the priority list, it’s important to eat well to maintain optimum energy levels and cognitive performance. Here are some suggestions that will help you ace your exams.

Chocolate: The food least expected to make the list. Studies have indicated that cocoa beans, namely in organic dark chocolate, can improve memory. Unfortunately this doesn’t include vending machine candy and chocolate bars, as they are processed and contain very little cocoa bean.

Fish: Known as an infamous brain food, due to their high omega-3 fatty acid and fish oil content. Omega-3s are believed to promote brain cell growth and neuron communication. They act by strengthening neurons and increase the speed of central nervous system signaling. Omega-3s can also be found in other foods, such as flaxseed, walnuts, eggs, and kiwi.

Water: In addition to hydrating your body, water can reduce stress hormones. In the long term, it can help prevent dehydration-induced neuronal damage. While water is vital to overall health and normal body function, coffee is also believed to be beneficial to the brain. According to a recent Reader’s Digest feature, “Regular coffee consumption has been shown to actually reduce the risk of mental decline and diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and has also recently been found to be […] the #1 source of antioxidants in the average American diet.” Coffee is not to be confused with its close counterparts, the café mocha and frappuccino. Only coffee in its purest form, as found in unadulterated espresso, truly provides these benefits. There’s also the added perk of caffeine, which helps sustain wakefulness and gets the brain up and running. Moderation is important as high caffeine doses can result in many unpleasant side effects.

Fruits and vegetables: Canada’s Food Guide recommends seven to eight servings a day, but fruits and veggies are vital to brain health. Blueberries, oranges, red bell peppers, and spinach are all rich sources of antioxidants and consequently decrease oxidative stress. Many contain folic acid, which is important to cognitive functioning. Fruit also contains glucose, the main source of fuel for the brain.

While the next few weeks may entail sleepless nights and long hours at the library, it’s in your best interest to keep hydrated and maintain a healthy diet. “Junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain’s synapses,” says Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA neurosurgery and physiological professor. “Brain synapses and several molecules related to learning and memory are adversely affected by unhealthy diets.”

Crafted with love

When I tell people about my craft business, the first question they always ask is, “You make money with…arts and crafts?” It’s surprising even to me, but the answer is yes. A bit of money, anyway. Toronto’s arts and crafts scene is a subset of the “everything local” sustainability movement of recent fame. Crafters, like organic vegetable gardeners, knitters, and homemade moonshine-makers, can be a little earnest, but we’re really making the world a better place. Grassroots production of useful and fanciful wares not only supplies consumers with creative stuff, but it builds community and provides modest earnings to a lot of people. Making arts and crafts for a living isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you love what you do and don’t mind putting in the extra hours, you too could build your own empire, even if it starts in your bedroom.

I’ve been crafty for as long as I can remember. No occasion or birthday passed without a one-of-a-kind handmade card, and school projects took on a whole new meaning when Bristol board was involved. My mother used to show off what I’d made and lament that I couldn’t make cards for a living—little did she know that not ten years later, I would do exactly that. The resurgence of homemade wares is fuelled by a group of like-minded young people who aim to take back the common objects of our lives from the uniformity of corporate production. Our handmade results aren’t necessarily as elegant as fine art, and they may not be as skilled as the work of professional artisans, but they’re still functional, creative, and local—and the demand is definitely there. When I discovered Etsy.com, my life changed for the better.

If you’re unfamiliar with Etsy, it’s a massive online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade, vintage, or otherwise necessary to live a full and happy life (think eBay’s hippie nephew). Everything from Darth Vader tea-towels, to botanically inspired greeting cards, to handmade coffee mugs and a bewildering array of screen-printed clothing can be purchased, or better yet, bartered. Since joining Etsy, I’ve discovered lots of similar operations, like the Toronto-based iCraft.ca, or Europe’s DaWanda.com, where the majority of business is conducted in German. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that my success (such as it is) was largely fueled by Etsy and the great people that use it. The online arts and crafts markets have enabled a lot of tiny cottage industries to come together into something resembling a powerful movement, with quantifiable economic value and a recognizable common ethic. The online community brings together craft makers located far from a large mass of local production. Etsy has seen huge growth since I joined a couple of years ago, and craft shows are gaining in popularity, even among people outside the scene. While makers of handmade stuff often share an anti-corporate ethic, the aesthetics of the wares are as varied as you can imagine.

The craft revolution doesn’t just exist on the Internet. There are more and more independently-run creative businesses popping up all across Canada and the United States. For first-hand evidence, take a stroll down Queen West and through Parkdale. There are entire stores full of handmade crafts, everything from 1-inch buttons to hand-sewn, found-fabric evening wear. There are co-ops, collectives, and more wholesale and consignment items in everyday stores than ever before. It’s a good time for us arts and crafters—local, handmade, environmentally sustainable wares are becoming increasingly popular, not just among students and artsy-types, but the nine-to-five set as well. Evidently, it seems people other than your garden-variety scenester want to move beyond the banalities of Hallmark cards and frightful mass-produced accessories.

To see into the heart of the community, one needs to go to a craft show. On any given weekend, obscure venues with very little advertising can entice hundreds of patrons out of their beds on a Sunday morning to mingle, shop, and amass gnome collectables. While you may not intend it, you will almost certainly leave with an armful of things you never knew you needed but suddenly can’t live without. As a vendor at such affairs, I’m hard-pressed not to spend all the money I make at other tables. Shopping at malls and supermarkets, it’s easy to forget that many of our neighbors and community members (if not ourselves) are full of creativity and innovation.

I can’t speak for others, but craft shows are my favourite part of what I do. Don’t get me wrong—I love everything from designing my buttons to licking the stamps I put on the envelopes—but there’s no replacement for the feeling of community and inclusiveness these shows promote. There aren’t many opportunities to meet other local artists in their natural habitat, and while I’m always eager to reconnect with old friends, I am constantly surprised by the number of new faces I see at every event as the community grows. It’s a great opportunity to meet customers and trade ideas.

My little operation, Consider Arson, has existed for a little over a year. It’s hard to believe that what started out of a shoe box has since conquered the vast majority of my apartment. In recent months I have expanded the scope of my operations to include over 60 different 1-inch button designs, and after experimenting with online advertising, I can barely meet the demands for large orders.

Making one-of-a-kind crafts is much more fun for the “scissors-and-glue” crafter in me, as customers walk away feeling like they have something special. Balancing the fun aspects of crafting and the business skills necessary to actually make the venture viable is an ongoing learning experience. But after the sticky fingers, innumerable trips to the post office, and supply anxieties are over, walking down Bloor Street and spotting one of my buttons on somebody’s lapel makes it all worthwhile.

You can begin your foray into the world of arts and crafts by checking out www.etsy.com. Rachel Dian’s work can be found at www.considerarson.etsy.com.

How do you like them fees?

Towards 2030, a document that reflects U of T president David Naylor’s vision of the university’s future, will go before Governing Council next Thursday. The plan will likely go through without a hitch and be adopted as guiding principles for the university’s development. This Monday through Wednesday, students, faculty and staff will have their say. The University of Toronto Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Union will hold a plebiscite on the controversial document.

The plan calls for unregulated tuition and non-academic fees, and a decreased undergraduate population in favor of graduate students. The plebiscite will ask members of the university, including students, faculty and staff, whether or not they support deregulation of fees.

The vote is a symbolic one: GC members decide the plan’s fate.

“This is something that we’ve been consulting on around the whole university, very much including students, for over a year,” said Rob Steiner, spokesperson for U of T. Steiner said he does not see the plebiscite as a useful exercise of student discontent.

The administration consulted handpicked task forces in the making of Towards 2030. Student unions claim they were refused presence on these committees. A town hall meeting early on in the process was the extent of open consultations with the larger university community.

Steiner encourages concerned students to contact their representatives on GC with any concerns as changes are made. “And if they can’t find a representative who wants to hear them […] then they should run [for GC office],” he said. Students have eight representatives on the 50-member council.

“I think that it’s a bad precedent that Towards 2030 seems to be suggesting a private institution,” said UTSU president Sandy Hudson. “We fear that other universities will follow suit and the American form of funding higher education will creep up to Canada.”

“And as a result I think we won’t be seeing a university filled with the best and the brightest […] we’ll be seeing a university of the richest.”

While the plebiscite will only put forward the question of deregulating tuition fees, the unions are also concerned about the proposed increase in “industry research partnerships,” or corporate-funded research. Student unions and the U of T Faculty Association have warned that corporatization of research will compromise academic freedom at the university.

Steiner said that U of T is prepared for any ethical quandaries. “We have tons of policy and watchdogs in every faculty that we specifically designed to ensure research ethics, and to ensure the primacy of academic freedom in any research collaboration,” he said.

Commander-in-chic

A teen queen-inspired artifact was the major point of intrigue at Saturday’s talk by Caroline Weber, professor of 18th Century French literature at Barnard College and Columbia University, and author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.

The talk, co-hosted by the ROM and the Costume Society of Ontario, was held in celebration of the French Queen’s two-piece court dress on display at the museum.

Clad in a Diane von Ferstenberg wrap dress and pearls, Weber delivered an engaging lecture on the famed monarch’s sartorial ventures to a lively and stylish audience. She began her lecture with a brief refresher course on Marie Antoinette’s familial origins (Austrian Habsburgs) and the reason for her engagement to the future King Louis XVI of France (a move to strengthen Franco-Austrian political ties).

As a mere pawn in the bloody game of 18th Century European rapprochement, Marie Antoinette had to endure at age twelve a year-long grooming process, as the French considered her to be a “savage child,” uncouth and unfit for royalty. The extreme makeover was intensive, and included a full oral surgery sans anesthesia to fix her “lamentably crooked” teeth (and you thought Stacey London from What Not to Wear was cruel).

Even upon arriving at Versailles, Marie Antoinette was constantly reminded of her precarious state in the French Courts as a childless foreigner. The “French Party,” as the anti-Marie Antoinette circle was called, referred to the Queen as “l’Autrichienne,” (the Austrian woman), and often made liberal use of a more sinister phrase, “l’Autruchienne” (the Austrian bitch). Her terribly shy husband didn’t help in the endeavour, and Marie Antoinette was often criticized for not “inspiring passion” in her husband.

Upon failing to exert her power in the traditional queenly way (the baby department), she chose to express her autonomy and prestige in an unconventional manner—through grandiose fashion statements.

Hence began the weaving of a revolution. With her army of stylists, seamstresses, and hairdressers, Marie Antoinette began a lifelong obsession with her own public image, in hopes of taking control of her fate. The “Cabinet of Fashion,” as the marchandes de modes were rightfully dubbed, included Rose Bertin, who stylized Marie Antoinette’s sartorially shocking wardrobe that included ribbon appliqués and wild flower embroidery—a motif now synonymous with the French Queen. Bertin’s counterpart was Monsieur Léonard, the hairdresser who is credited with some of the world’s most cutting edge headdresses. Some featured miniature still-life, like the replica of La Belle Poule (a French frigate that won critical battle with the British during the American Revolution), signaling the Queen’s support for the French troops. Others ranged from garden scenes to ostrich feather fixtures that doubled the height of the wearer.

As a commander-in-chic, Marie Antoinette created her own cult of fashion. But her elegance was misconstrued as decadence, twisting her public persona into that of a frivolous and indulgent member of the monarchy. She was blamed by the royals for democratizing fashion and tarnishing the name of the nobility, and criticized for her “shop ‘til you drop” mantra, deemed insensitive to the harsh economic conditions of the day.

Famously, Marie Antoinette’s head did indeed drop—and it rolled too. In 1793, she was led to the guillotine to be executed. She wore a white chemise—white being the colour of not only her famed powdered and coiffed headdresses, but also of the fleur-de-lys, the symbol of the French royal family. It was to be her last and arguably most memorable fashion statement.

In fashion, the most interesting pieces reflect the times. Marie Antoinette’s clothes served as political weapons in a tortuously restrictive society (almost as binding as whalebone corsets) that denied her the authority and freedom she craved. To this end, Caroline Weber skillfully tells the tale of the fallen French Queen—perhaps the first celebrity tragedy of the fashion industry.

Marie Antoinette’s dress is on display as part of an ongoing Out of the Vault series in which rarely seen objects are released from the ROM’s vast storerooms for limited viewing. The display runs from October 11-26 and can be seen at the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textile & Costume on the fourth level of the ROM.

Sexual assault suspect in court tomorrow

Toronto Police have arrested a suspect in connection with the Sept. 19 sexual assault near St. George Campus.

A 25-year-old female student at St. George campus was on her way home from work when she was attacked, dragged into a nearby alley, and sexually assaulted. The attack took place at 4 a.m. on Beverly Street, near Cecil Street.

The assailant, who escaped before police arrived, also stole the victim’s purse.

Kevin Mack, a 23-year-old who lives in Toronto’s east end, has been charged with forcible confinement, sexual assault causing bodily harm, threatening to cause bodily harm, robbery, and possession of property obtained by crime.

Detective Anthony Charles of the sex crimes unit told The Varsity that the suspect was known to police and was also charged with two counts of failing to comply with probation, for a breaking-and-entering case, and for failure to attend court.

The suspect was found through circulating composite sketches and processing forensic evidence, Charles told the Globe and Mail.

The attack, which lasted 10 minutes, came after reports of a peeping tom looking into women’s homes in the St. George and Bloor area. Last year, three separate sexual assaults occurred at York University.

Mack was denied bail at his Oct. 3 court appearance at Old City Hall. His trial date is set for Oct. 21, at the same location.

Ultimate champs

Although they lose more often than they win, the Varsity Blues football team draws a great deal of attention. In contrast, U of T’s Ultimate Frisbee team has won three national championships, yet remains an unknown presence on campus.

U of T team Torontula won the Canadian University Ultimate Championships this October. In an intense game against the University of Alberta, the team secured their third title as national champions with a final score of 15-11.

“There was a question if the team could keep up the success with the old leadership gone,” said Taylor Martin, one of the team’s three captains. After ten of the team’s starting players graduated, Martin was nervous about whether they could hold onto their title.

He credits the team’s former captains, Peter Jamieson and Kirk Nylen, for implementing a training model that allowed the team to continue as national champions. “They basically brought the team back from nothing,” Martin explained.

Despite their success, Torontula gets little recognition. Practicing five days a week and without any money from the school, Ultimate Frisbee players are committed with their time and resources.

“[You spend] all these mornings training, practicing, spending your own money, for what really is no glory, except within your own community,” said Martin. “Those who do it, do it because they love it.”

Martin attributes Torontula’s quiet campus presence to the fact that very few people are aware that Ultimate is a competitive sport. “People who play [intramurals] tend to think ‘oh this is fun.’ They think that this is all Ultimate Frisbee has to offer. They don’t even realize that people take this very seriously,” said Martin.

Martin believes that intramurals help bolster appreciation of the sport. Engaging people at less competitive levels is important in increasing Ultimate Frisbee’s popularity. “Most people who try it really do enjoy it. [It’s] a matter of making people aware, and getting them to come the first time,” Martin described. “I think the onus is on us as players to promote it.”

This lack of widespread popularity brings with it a different, more genuine crowd. Players are not doing it for the glory, per se, and are more committed to the sport itself.

“What [a lack of popularity] means is that it draws different sorts of people; it draws fewer big jocks,” added Martin. However, those who compete in Ultimate Frisbee are not lacking in athleticism. “At the high levels, everybody is a very good athlete,” explained Martin. “People take it very seriously, like any other sport.”

According to Martin, the most important aspect of Ultimate Frisbee is that it is all-inclusive. “The university has a team. We do very well, and everyone is welcome. All it takes to play is commitment, and that’s it.”