October 5 marks the launch of a new sports writing course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Believed to be the first of its kind at U of T, the course teaches the basics of writing, reporting, and using new media to produce work for public consumption.The course will be taught by Perry Lefko, a sports reporter from Rogers Sportsnet and a frequent Toronto Star contributor. In preparation for the class, The Varsity sat down with Lefko to learn more about beginning a career as a professional sports reporter.The Varsity: How did you get into sports reporting?Perry Lefko: I went to Ryerson in 1979 and took the journalism course, and graduated there in 1982. […] I knew all along when I was growing up that I wanted to be a sports reporter. From Ryerson, I began working professionally in the business first in London with the Free Press, and then I came back to Toronto and worked [for] The Hockey News. Then I worked for the Toronto Sun for 21 years, and for the last three years I have been working on my own, freelancing.TV: What are your primary beats?PL: Right now, I write a lot about the Canadian Football League for Sportsnet. I also write for Metro News and I cover a variety of sports.TV: Tell us a little bit about your class.PL: The class is basically going to be an entry point into learning about sports writing and the various different ways you can do it. There’s professional writing in terms of writing for newspapers and magazines. But there are so many new different ways to write about sports these days—blogs, the Internet—there are so many forms available out there. If you think you know a lot about sports and you think you can impart that, you will be able to get people to start reading your stuff.TV: The media is changing so quickly. Where does that leave the sports reporter?PL: The sports reporter needs to be a little bit more diversified. The sports reporter now needs to be able to get stories online much quicker. There are so many ways you can express yourself as a sports writer.TV: What are the necessary qualities for becoming a sports writer?PL: I think the first one has to be your ability to write. If you don’t know how to write, it will be very difficult for people to understand what you’re trying to say. Having said that, there are lots of people who are interested in blogs who are not the greatest writers, but what they have to say has value. But you still have to be a fairly good writer. Second of all, you have to be able to tell your story for people to want to read it. The third thing is you have to have integrity because if you’re just going to be sloppy about what you’re putting out there and it has no ethics, people will find it difficult to believe what you’re trying to say. The fourth thing you have to do is be fast because in this changing atmosphere of news reporting, the story that gets out there first is going to get the most traction. Above everything else, there has to be passion for what you’re doing. If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, it will reflect in the way you do your job, how other people see you, and how your product is presented.TV: What’s your most memorable sports story?PL: The one that meant the most to me goes back to a story in ’97/’98. I went to Regina to do a story about a woman who was a curler—her name was Sandra Schmirler. She was a very prominent women’s curler and was very well known in not only Canada, but around the world as being the best curler ever. She was battling cancer, and I approached her wanting to write a story about her battle and how she was winning [it]. I asked about writing a book about her life. The first thing she said was, “Would anybody care?” Right there, it was an example about how humble this woman was. Tragically, she died two months later, and it was a big story in Canada. Her funeral was covered nationally. I ended up writing a book about her life and it ended up being a national bestseller. To me, that was the most memorable story because of how much that woman meant to me as a person, as an athlete, and as an icon.Lefko’s class begins on Oct. 5. You can sign up until the second week of classes, Oct. 19.
Sports writing: How to play the game
Breaking the ice
The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team is preparing for its upcoming season. After falling to the McGill Redmen in the quarter-finals of last season’s playoffs, the coaching staff have brought in five rookies that will hopefully give the team an edge. The returning players have regained their confidence since the postseason, training on and off the ice to prepare for their upcoming games.Brendan Sherrard, who has captained the team for the past two seasons, is confident in the new players. He believes that the team will be even better than last year’s. After losing key veterans both on defence and on the front end, the Blues recruited Brent McGrail and Kyle Paige for their speed and scoring ability up front. Tyler Turcotte, Zack Fenwick, and Matt Walters have been added to the defence roster for their size and skill. Leading point scorers Joe Rand, Eddie Snetsinger, Byron Elliot, and Sherrard will play an important role in the team’s goal to make it to the nationals in Thunder Bay this spring.Although Sherrard expresses great confidence in the team, he believes that their main focus this year should be five-on-five scoring. “Last year we relied on our power play more than any of us would have liked, so this year we need to put up better numbers—even strength,” said Sherrard.The team is excited to travel to New York State, where they will face Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University in exhibition matches before their regular season begins on Oct. 9 at the University of Ottawa. Sherrard expects that the team’s greatest challenges this year will be the teams from the Far East.“McGill, Concordia, UQTR, Ottawa, and Carleton always give us a tough game, and since we play these teams the most they are our toughest competition,” said Sherrard.The first home game will take place at Varsity Arena on Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. The U of T hockey fan-base has not been large in the past, but with the new additions to the team, more people may be drawn to support the Blues. “Judging from what’s been going on in camp, we have four lines with eight defencemen who can all play, and when they’re on the ice they are all dangerous,” said Sherrard. “We have a lot of depth that I don’t think most teams have, which is why we’re all excited to get the season started.”
Petitions to leave CFS circulate on numerous campuses
Efforts to leave the Canadian Federation of Students, the biggest student lobby group in Canada, are underway at several universities across the country. Last week, the McGill Daily reported that students at 13 schools are circulating petitions that their schools de-federate from CFS.The endeavour is still in the early stages: four student unions told The Varsity they were aware of the petition and wanted to remain neutral, while two hadn’t heard about them. The rest did not respond by press time. According to the Daily, petition organizers are disenchanted with the CFS for three reasons.First, organizers accuse CFS of consistently employing aggressive litigation against student journalists and student unions wishing to de-federate.“CFS is the most aggressive organization I’ve ever reported on. I don’t mean most aggressive ‘student organization’ but most aggressive organization— period,” wrote Erin Millar, a Maclean’s writer, in a blog post last week.Three years ago, Millar wrote a piece about CFS’s legal threats against theneditor of the Ryerson Eyeopener, Robyn Doolittle, and editorial staff. Doolittle reportedly received a legal threat two hours before the paper was to publish a story about alleged money advances to Douglas College Union. The Eyeopener went ahead with the story and CFS did not pursue legal action.“From what I hear, there was slander printed in the newspaper. What would you do if that happens? Ask for a retraction. If that doesn’t happen, make sure that it’s corrected,” responded Sandy Hudson, who is CFS’s national women’s representative and also president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union. “Going to court is a process of finding out whether that’s right or wrong.”Second, petitioners claim there is a “revolving door” phenomenon between pro-CFS student politicians and the CFS national headquarters. One example they cite is Hamid Osman, former president of the York Federation of Students, who is currently a CFS National executive representative. In November 2008, Osman was criticized for leaving in the middle of York’s strike to campaign at a CFS membership referendum at the University of Ottawa.Third, organizers say CFS is not effectively transparent and accountable to its member organizations. The former VP external of the Society of Graduate Students at the University of Western Ontario, Dan Dechene, cited transparency as his personal reason for wanting Western to leave CFS.“It’s an ongoing process,” said Dechene, who is a petition leader. Dechene declined to comment on whether he contacted other student societies to coordinate anti-CFS efforts.U of T full-time students pay around $12 per year for CFS national and provincial membership, according to Hudson. A CFS representative could not be reached to confirm the figure.Several student union executives said they are maintaining a neutral stance.“We received the petition on Thursday,” said Daniel Simeone, president of the Post-Graduate Student’s Society at McGill University. “Assuming the right number of signatures, we are obligated to go forward and hold a referendum.” Simeone said a petition verification process is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 27.CFS bylaws require that petitions for a member union to split from the federation be signed by at least 10 per cent of that union’s membership. The PGSS currently has 7,000 members, each paying $12 per year for membership.Other student unions listed by the Daily hadn’t heard about the petition. “We haven’t been contacted by students organizing a referendum,” said Gavin Armstrong, an exec from Guelph’s Central Student Association.“I think it’s just a rumour,” said Veronica Harrison, chairperson for the University of Victoria Student Society.U of T’s student union leaders expressed support for CFS.“CFS has been very supportive,” said Joeita Gupta, VP internal for the Association for Part-Time Students.Gupta said that in addition to CFS’s support for student space and campaigns against tuition fees and the Olympics, part-time students benefit from membership services like the health and dental plan and the Studentsaver Card discount program.“The federation isn’t this thing off-campus,” said Hudson. “It’s difficult to make an impact with policy with just UTSU members. As members, we can go to student unions across Canada, tell them what’s happening.”The Graduate Students’ Society at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser Student Society successfully left CFS in March 2008.The Cape Breton University Students’ Union also held a successful vote last year to leave CFS, but CFS maintains the referendum was not legitimate because the union failed to follow bylaws.
CFS de-federation procedure:
1) A petition must be signed by at least 10 percent of members.2) Notice of a vote on defederating must be delivered by registered mail to CFS head office six months prior to voting.3) CFS formally acknowledges they have received the petition, then decide within three months to approve or reject it.4) If approved, 60-90 days’ notice are given for the referendum date5) No less than two weeks of campaigning must take place immediately preceding referendum voting. Anti-CFS campaigners complain about the short window, since no vote can take place between April and Sept. 15 or between Dec. and Jan. 15.6) No less than 16 hours of polling over no less than two days, except in the case of voting being conducted at a general meeting.7) The vote is overseen by a committee composed of two members appointed by CFS and two members appointed by the local member association.
Tunes at noon
Inside a small auditorium, Jason Nedecky sings a recipe for rabbit stew, accompanied by fellow music lecturer Che Anne Loewen, who hammers the fast-paced tune on a grand piano. “When the flame has gone out, thicken the sauce with a pound of butter and flour. Seeeerve,” he belts out to a large audience of mostly students and seniors. People can’t help but laugh. And because it’s lunch hour, stomachs begin to grumble.Every Thursday, U of T’s Faculty of Music hosts a one-hour recital at Walter Hall, inside the Edward Johnson Building at 80 Queen’s Park Crescent. The series features performances by staff and, on special occasions, senior students. The free event, appropriately titled Thursdays at Noon, is open to the public and preserves the university’s long tradition of showcasing its faculty’s talents.More than half a century ago, the Thursday series was a mandatory event for students. It was intended to provide an opportunity for them to learn about works beyond the scope of their courses. In 1965, the Faculty of Music Council reduced the attendance requirement to attending at least 80 per cent of the time, but students protested and invented ways to cheat the punch-card system. The dean got rid of the rule four years later. Nowadays, while students come out either for extra credit or to complete an assignment, many show up simply to support a teacher.Last week’s concert was the first Thursdays at Noon for Michel Ross, a second-year Master’s student in collaborative piano. Intrigued by the collaborative element of the performance, he described the connection established between the pianist and singer like that of tuning into a different language.“You learn things that you should do and things that you shouldn’t do,” said Ross. One thing he enjoyed was getting to sit in the audience while he watched a teacher perform. “It’s fun to poke at the little things that they would criticize you for.”With the tables turned, it’s no wonder the performers feel that the pressure’s on. “Students are the hardest audience to perform for. Ever. Ever. Ever,” explained Loewen, a senior lecturer at the music faculty. “You ask so much of them. You’ve got to show them that you ask that much of yourself as well.”Last Thursday featured a special music and poetry combo with vocalist Nedecky, Loewen on piano, and Eric Domville as a guest speaker. Domville, a Professor Emeritus in the English department, shared his interpretation of the two works played at the event. During the moody Calligrammes, Op. 140 by composer Francis Poulenc, the audience listened to French poems about war and women. The fatty recipes from La Bonne Cuisine by West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein, however, added an extra ingredient to the mix.“You can set anything to music if you feel like it,” Domville said.For more Faculty of Music events, check out www.music.utoronto.ca/events/calendar
To bury, or not to bury
Experts gathered at the Munk Centre on Wednesday morning to discuss the merits of carbon capture and storage, which has emerged in the past several years as a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Professors, policy wonks, and industry representatives responded to a conference paper titled “Burying Carbon Dioxide in Underground Saline Aquifers: Political Folly or Climate Change Fix?”Carbon capture and storage, known as CCS, involves capturing carbon dioxide and injecting it into rock formations deep inside the earth. The federal government has earmarked $140 million for eight CCS projects, and Alberta has allotted $2 billion to build three CCS plants.“Instead of buying us time to find alternative sources of clean energy, CCS is buying politicians time to avoid making tough, unpopular decisions,” declared Graham Thomson, the author of the paper and a columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Thomson argued that CCS is too risky, expensive, and dangerous at its current stage of development to be worth heavy investment. Investing in CCS technology also diverts resources from energy efficiency and delays more durable reforms, Thomson said. He suggested alternative policies, such as systematic reduction of fossil fuel consumption.Several panellists agreed with Thomson to some degree. “I really don’t think carbon capture and storage is worth the money we plan to spend on it,” said geology professor Andrew Miall.Fellow geology professor Barbara Sherwood-Lollar warned the audience that fears over CCS’s risks and liabilities could ultimately result in inaction on climate change. “The danger is that if we focus only on what can go wrong, we may be faced with the prospect of doing nothing, and the implications of doing nothing at this point are no less than disastrous,” she said.Mary Griffiths, a former policy analyst for the sustainability advocacy group Pembina Institute, said CCS was one arrow in the quiver for fighting climate change. Other strategies include energy conservation, low-impact renewable energy, and putting a price on carbon pollution.Government and industry reps defended CCS. “While water and energy efficiency and renewable energy are important, these alone won’t suffice to meet the increase in demand [due to a rising population],” countered Don Broussard of Lafayette Utilities System, an electric and water company.Kevin Stringer, director of petroleum resources with Natural Resources Canada, called CCS a crucial component. “Fossil fuels are going to be around for a while, and technology will need to be a solution,” he said. Brent Lakeman of the Alberta Research Council echoed Stringer’s support, saying that uncertainties exist with any technology deployed to address climate change. “CCS is still in its infancy,” he said.Emily Rochon of Greenpeace International attacked the credibility of CCS advocates like Stringer and Lakeman, saying that they have a vested interest in CSS because they would be out of a job if it doesn’t work.“CCS is like a nicotine patch for a smoker. What we are trying to do is continue to get our fix and hope that we don’t get cancer,” she remarked, to the loudest applause of the day.
Google’s copyright conundrum
Google Books might be a godsend when it comes to research, but authors whose books were scanned without their permission aren’t pleased. In 2005, the American Publishers Association and the American Authors Guild took Google to court for copyright infringement. Last Thursday, a New York judge delayed a hearing on the settlement at the request of the authors’ and publishers’ groups, who wanted more time to address antitrust and copyright issues.Under the settlement, Google will pay out $125 million, to be divided among legal fees, payments to rightsholders, and a book registry. The registry would keep track of authors in a class-action settlement and pay them 63 per cent of generated revenues. Rights holders have to opt out if they don’t want their works scanned by Google, whereas common practice until now had copyright-owners opting in if they want to participate. The deadline for filing for a cash payment is Jan. 5, 2010.As it stands, the settlement covers access to books from around the world published before Jan. 5, 2009. No supplementary materials, such as tables or illustrations, are covered. One point of contention is that Google would keep the revenues from “orphan” books whose copyright owner cannot be identified.“Sometimes you want to read something from a new author. I like that you get a wide array of information to look at,” said Janice Asiimwe, a second-year student, on the usefulness of Google’s scanned images of texts. Asiimwe was amazed when she found out that Google had not requested permission to digitize books. “That’s wrong! I can’t believe they were that silly. It’s a multimillion- dollar company. How did they think they wouldn’t get caught?”At a forum last Friday, Sian Meikle from U of T’s digital library services and Tony Horava, from the University of Ottawa, discussed the merits and concerns of the settlement. While a huge corpus will be made available to a vast audience, some at the event expressed concern that Google will become a monopoly in the area of scanned books available online, as the company would get exclusive rights to published works. Under the settlement, Google would have “preferred nation” status, which stops other providers from being offered license terms better than Google’s for 10 years from the release date.Forum attendees speculated on the future of the settlement, which could be rewritten to address these concerns. The settlement would also allow Google to leave out sections of a publication without giving a reason (and may be pressured by authors to do so), diminishing access to information.Attendees also speculated on whether Google could raise the fairuse argument, and publish limited information for scholarly use without requiring permission.Aakanksha Tangri, in her second year at U of T, felt divided about Google Books. “As a student, I think it’s beneficial. But from a writer’s point of view, I think it’s unethical. People slog to write. They should be rewarded.”Other students were indifferent to the legal issues. “I don’t care as long as I get the information,” said Ian Ngaira, a third-year UOIT student. “If the authors have a problem, they can sort it out with Google. It doesn’t affect me.”It is unclear how students will be affected by whatever turn the settlement takes. Victoria Owen, head librarian at UTSC, said that she isn’t able to gauge what will happen. “At this point it is about vigilance and libraries, as well as authors, trying to figure out where they stand,” she said.A status hearing to discuss how to move forward is scheduled for Oct. 7.
The jewels of JULS
The academic landscape can be, let’s face it, pretty hostile. Whether it’s publications, proposals, or elbow-padded blazers, the adornments of academia can feel as unattainable as winning the lottery. But sometimes, even in the most barren terrain, you can stumble upon an oasis. U of T’s Journal of Undergraduate Life Sciences (JULS, sounds like “Jules”) is just that.Established in the summer of 2006, JULS was conceived by a small group of students who wanted an outlet for publishing research conducted by life science students at U of T. Three years and as many issues later, JULS, once the little engine that could, is now a full-sized freight train and a force to be reckoned with. The journal is now sponsored by undergraduate departments ranging from pharmacology to physiology to molecular genetics, and boasts an ample roster of life science faculty advisors. Its editorial review board also gives students the chance to get involved in the peer-review process. And for those who aspire to more authorial ambitions, JULS accepts a range of pieces for publication, including research articles, mini-reviews, and letters.The JULS process includes some input from faculty advisors, who provide support and who can review articles. But the bulk of reviewing goes to the student editorial board, making it a real student-run endeavour. According to Andy Dicks of the Department of Chemistry, “Once you have the peer-review process in place, that’s crucial. Because it validates the science, and you don’t just get any old stuff rearing its head in there, stuff that hasn’t been checked properly.”JULS also emphasizes its interdisciplinary mandate by accepting pieces from a wide range of sciences, sometimes extending beyond the life sciences. “Although JULS is life science, and chemistry is a physical science,” says Dicks, “there were quite a few chemistry articles that were published in JULS. I thought that was great, because that was a real chance for our students to showcase their chemistry to a life science audience, partly so that life science students realize that chemistry is a big part of their curricula and their lives generally.”But of course there’s always room for improvement. According to Ivana Stehlik from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, “the only thing I would, from my perspective, like to see is more articles from the ecology or evolutionary front. Mostly it’s medical science, so I hope that there will be an equal chance for everybody to get in.”While JULS does accept non-research articles, most professors are keen about pursuing research at the undergraduate level. Research opportunities during the summer or during the year, like the second- and third-year research opportunity courses and fourth-year research projects, are great for “giving the undergraduate student a taste of what research is like,” says Physiology professor William MacKay. “It’s a total mystery to everybody until they actually do it. So it’s kind of pointless to aim for graduate school and then discover, once you’re in a Master’s program, that you hate it!”“Don’t think of it as something extra, on top of your classes,” adds Dicks. “You’ll learn things doing research that you can’t possibly learn any other way. Sometimes there’s this perspective that undergraduates can’t do research, or they’re not ready for research until they become graduate students. I would contend that my experience and the experience of my colleagues is that there are plenty of very good second-year undergraduates who do excellent research, if they are given the right type of project. That’s the key thing.”While one of JULS’ missions is to give students a taste of academia outside the lab and classroom, it also tries to promote communication, both among scientists and with the public. This has important implications, not only at the student level, but also in the world at large.“People with a lot of power, both in commerce and in political structures, are having to make major decisions about matters which are scientific, whether it’s climate, nuclear energy, medical technology, drugs, vaccines [or] rapid trains,” says Andrew Baines, coordinator and professor for the Vic One life science seminar. “Pretty well everything that creates our current society and the high standard of living we have is related in some way or another to science and technology. And that means that you want to have an informed population who understand the concepts and a good chunk of the words that are used in science. And part of the problem is the words—that a lot of scientists use unnecessarily obscure words.“We need to educate people on the scientific side to be able to communicate to each other across disciplines within the sciences. An engineer talking to a psychologist: that can be extremely important when you’re designing the cockpit of a train or an airplane. But you need to talk the same language, and very often they don’t. And certainly when you’re talking to the politician or the CEO of a major company who wants to exploit a particular piece of technology, he has to understand what he’s getting into.”According to William Navarre from the Department of Molecular Genetics, there are also problems in the ways in which the popular media communicates science—something that hits home for Varsity science writers. “The problem comes with the disconnect between how a complex and nuanced subject like science gets translated to laypeople through traditional media sources. Traditional media sources are deadline- and headline-driven, and this is inherently incompatible with how science actually operates. It’s only gotten worse with the Internet as readers and watchers are increasingly distracted and at the same time news outlets are increasingly receptive to quick sound bites with little regard for fact-checking or complex viewpoints—in fact they often lack the ability, time and funds to do fact-checking. Almost every article about science recently is hype-driven, and it does the public little service. Go back to any health science–related article from 15 years ago and see if any of the hype was actually lived up to; 99 per cent of the time it was a blip on the radar and then forgotten about.”But there’s also a part of science writing that shows the science wordsmith’s human side. At the risk of sounding foolish to all the arts students out there, most science students will admit that science is exciting and beautiful. “People need to see scientific writing as literature, when it’s possible to do so,” says Baines.So what makes for good science writing? According to Navarre, “a good science piece first and foremost targets its audience. Second, it poses an interesting question or mystery up front and does so in a way that engages the reader. Then it goes about solving the mystery through the evidence. At the end I hope it actually answers or almost answers the question that was posed up front. This question-answer format can be successfully followed for a science article written for kids or to a highly specialized audience. Third, good writing in any field or subject is direct and avoids being superfluous or wordy.”Baines adds, “I think that probably one of the first things you look at in people who are starting out writing is: do they have a clear grasp of who they’re talking to and what style they should be using? And do they have a clear grasp of what the question is that they’re dealing with? Once they get beyond that, then they’ve got to marshal their evidence and put it together in a coherent fashion. And beware of using too many adjectives. It’s just very basic rhetoric.”At the end of the day, JULS serves a pretty noble purpose. From promoting student research to giving students a chance to take part in interdisciplinary communication, it looks like three-year-old JULS will be sticking around for the years to come.“I think the most important function [JULS] serves right now is not so much for the reader as for the writer,” says Doug Templeton of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, “in giving the students an opportunity to go through the exercise of writing up their work, and at the same time doing it in a way that is going to have to be put in front of the public and that they’re going to have to take responsibility for.”Who knows? Maybe thanks to JULS, that elbow-padded blazer might even start fitting better.
Publishing in JULS: The deets
The research article
2,000-3,000 words.The research article lets student authors who have contributed significantly to original research to submit a piece addressing a new and interesting question in the life sciences.
1,500-2,500 words.Students who haven’t had the chance to conduct original research can submit mini-review articles, which present an in-depth look at narrowed-down and intriguing topics.
1,000-1,500 words.Letters are the more concise versions, and allow authors to present their original research along with a discussion of its significance within a broader context.
Research articles and mini-reviews: eligible candidates fall under two categories. The first consists of U of T undergraduates who have worked with a supervisor on a fourth-year thesis project, 299 Research Opportunity Program course, or summer research placement at U of T or its affiliated research institutions. Undergraduate students outside of U of T who have conducted research for at least three months under the supervision of a U of T faculty member are also eligible.Letters: these articles are open to a wider range of authors, including any undergraduate enrolled in a four-year undergraduate program at any Canadian university.
JULS & communicating science: What the experts say
“Communication is important in science because if you simply do science and don’t communicate the results, you haven’t really contributed anything. [It] is a very important part of doing research. But I think it goes beyond that. I think the exercise of communication also helps clarify our thinking quite a lot, and I often find that I actually get new insights into the meaning of the experiments that I’m writing for publication.”
—Doug Templeton, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology
—Ivana Stehlik, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology“JULS provides that place where [undergraduate students] can publish, even though it’s not a major piece of work that would get through in an international peer-reviewed journal. But still, it’s well done, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be presented, and [JULS] provides that avenue for the undergraduate student.”
—William MacKay, Department of Physiology“JULS is an excellent in-house journal of science. I think it is an invaluable resource for students to gain experience with writing up their results early. If the results of an experiment don’t get published, you may as well have not done the experiment to begin with. I think JULS actually has an equally important role, however, in publishing articles by professors to communicate with students about things they don’t learn in class.”
—William Navarre, Department of Molecular Genetics“I think of JULS in the context of research, and I’m very passionate about undergraduate research and giving undergraduates opportunities to do research. I think we do a pretty good job at U of T, but I think the word has to be out there that we can do a better job. And a lot of that is education, really. It’s explaining to professors how they can involve second-year undergrads, and how they can design projects so that second-year undergrads can do them.”
—Andrew Dicks, Department of Chemistry
The history of atomic theory
The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 to Niels Henrik David Bohr “for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them.”
Atomic theory dates back more than 7,000 years to the Ancient Greeks, who through thought experiments developed the idea that if you repeatedly split a substance in half, eventually you come to an indivisible molecule called the “atom.”In the 13th century, Pseudo-Geber coined the theory of corpuscularianism, in which all physical matter was believed to be made of divisible particles (corpuscles). Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle combined Pseudo-Geber’s theory with alchemy to form a 16th century corpuscular theory of light. As the discipline of chemistry evolved, atomic theory and the idea of classical elements (earth, fire, air and water) was disproved by scientific thinkers. In 1803, John Dalton created the modern atomic theory, defining each element as consisting of distinct atoms that combine to form compounds. This theory was further validated by Robert Brown (who discovered “Brownian motion”), Albert Einstein, and physicist Jean Perrin. Scientists Dmitri Mendeleev and Lavoisier developed the first periodic table in 1869, arranging the distinct elements by their chemical properties and atomic number.It was a long wait, however, until J.J. Thomson made the first discovery of a component of the atomic model—the electron—in 1897. Thomson showed that applying voltage between two electrodes in a vacuum generates a ray (known as a cathode ray) of negative-charged “corpuscles” (to use Thomson’s term). Thomson believed that electrons were the fundamental unit of matter, which he tried to prove despite knowing that atoms as a whole have no charge. To reconcile this contradiction, Thomson developed his “plum-pudding” model, wherein electron “plums” swam in a “pudding” of positive charge that neutralized the overall charge of the atom.One of Thomson’s students, Ernest Rutherford, disproved the likeness of the atom to a fruit-filled dessert through his interpretation of the elegant “gold-foil experiment.” When positively charged alpha particles emitted from radium bromide are shot at a piece of gold foil only a few hundred atoms thick, instead of passing through the gold foil as predicted by the “plum-pudding” model, some alpha particles deflect with wide angles or reflect right back. To explain this, Rutherford proposed a new model in which a solar system of “planetary” electrons encircles a positively-charged central particle (the nucleus). This model reconciled how atoms can have a neutral charge but also deflect an alpha particle because of the large positively-charged nucleus.What Rutherford’s model could not explain is how an accelerating negative charge (the electron) avoids emitting electromagnetic energy, a known property of accelerating charges. The planetary model also does not explain the observation that when atoms are excited, say by heat, they emit characteristic radiation spectra that can be observed by spectroscopy.It was around this same time that quantum theory, developed by Max Planck and furthered by Albert Einstein, dawned on the world of physics. This model, for which Planck won the 1918 Nobel Prize, describes the behaviour of light and other electromagnetic waves. Light and other types of energy exist in only discrete bundles called quanta, with no half-measures. The size of the bundles is equal to Planck’s constant, h, a very small unit. Inspired by quantum theory, Neils Bohr developed his atomic model in 1913.The Bohr model, also known as the Bohr-Rutherford model, starts with the planetary model, but incorporates quantum theory into the orbits of the electrons. Bohr postulated that like light energy, electrons have discrete amounts of energy. His model further suggested that electrons cannot travel around the positively-charged nucleus outside specific orbits that can be thought of as spherical “shells” at defined distances from the nucleus. These orbital shells are defined by a signature energy value, the quantum part of the theory.In addition, the model states that an electron can only gain or lose energy by “jumping up” or “jumping down” into another energetic orbital shell. When an atom is excited, an electron can “jump up” into a new orbital sphere. Electrons that enter into a higher-energy orbital shell are unstable, and can not stay there for long. As they drop down to a lower orbit, they release energy in the form of radiation equivalent to the energy difference between the two orbital shells. These “jump downs” always release the same amount of radiation at frequencies that are characteristic for that atom.Bohr’s model successfully explained many observations of the atom circulating at that time.
What Has Happened Since:
The Bohr-Rutherford model was the most advanced model of the atom for many years, but it was refined by others including Arnold Sommerfeld. It becomes less useful when applied to the properties and behaviours of large atoms. Despite this, the Bohr-Rutherford model is still taught to new science students before moving on to more complex orbital-theory models.Current models for the movements of electrons include complex orbital patterns, wave-like behaviour, and the uncertainty principle—the concept that electrons aren’t normally at discrete foci and that their position can be best described in terms of probabilities.We also have evidence that the nucleus is composed of more than just positively charged particles. Scientists now hypothesize that its ingredients list extends to quarks, bosons, and leptons.Niels Bohr continued working in theoretical physics for the remainder of his life, contributing much to the field of atomic theory. During the Second World War he worked with the Americans on the Manhattan project, but was a strong advocate for a peaceful sharing of atomic knowledge and against a nuclear arms race. His son, Aage Bohr, went on to continue the family Nobel legacy, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1975 with two others “for the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection.”