Nobelmen: Chemist Linus Pauling rewarded for over two decades of scientific breakthroughs

The Prize:

The 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Linus Pauling “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.”

The Science:

Linus Pauling has been honoured by many as the greatest modern chemist. A Nobel Prize was definitely in his destiny, but Pauling himself wasn’t sure what he would win it for.

His contribution to chemistry is a story of a career’s worth, with no single great achievement—something that Alfred Nobel had stipulated as necessary for Nobel Prize–winning work.

Pauling’s interest in the chemical bond started during undergrad. At this time, the model for the chemical bond, the “glue” that keeps two atoms in a molecule bound to each other, was thought of as “hooks and eyes” like the clasps found at the top of some zippers. Every atom had a certain number of hooks and eyes to attach to other atoms, and joining a hook and an eye from different atoms resulted in the formation of a chemical bond.

Pauling’s own work on chemical bonds was highly influenced by the work of Gilbert Lewis and Irving Langmuir (Nobel Laureate, 1932). The Lewis and Langmuir model of the atom posited that the electrons that orbit the nucleus of an atom can be found in orbital shells: the first shell contains two electrons, with the remaining electrons found in subsequent, larger shells that hold eight electrons each. In their model, the atom is “happiest” when the outermost shell is full. Thus, an atom that has seven electrons in its outermost shell will bond to an atom with only one electron in its outer shell, allowing them to “share” that electron, and making both atoms “happier.”

Of course, this model was too simplistic to explain what chemists at the time knew about atoms. The scientific community was already beginning to think of electrons as waves and not as moons orbiting a nuclear planet.

After completing his PhD in 1925, Pauling spent time in Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship working with quantum theory giants Arnold Sommerfield, Niels Bohr (Nobel Laureate, 1922), and Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel Laureate, 1933). Exposure to the world of theoretical physics allowed Pauling to start his own lab at Caltech in a very new field, quantum chemistry, where he could explore the connection between quantum mechanics and the chemical bond.

Pauling’s Nobel-winning work began in 1928, when he published a theory on the nature of the carbon bond. His paper hypothesized that the formation of chemical bonds resulted in the exchange of energy, an idea originally proposed by Walter Heitler and Fritz London. This theory addressed a long-standing debate between physicists and chemists over carbon’s bonding geometry. The paper did not include any mathematics to back up Pauling’s hypothesis, but he set out to prove it mathematically and finally did, three years later.

In 1931, Pauling wrote the first in a series of seven papers describing “The Nature of the Chemical Bond.” Using quantum mechanics and wave functions, Pauling derived the strengths and arrangements of bonds and predicted other properties of bonds not yet discovered. “I was so excited and happy, I think I stayed up all night, making, writing out, solving the equations, which were so simple that I could solve them in a few minutes,” he said at the time.

Pauling was one of the few chemists familiar with quantum theory, making his theories easily 10 years ahead of everyone else’s. Einstein famously said, “It was too complicated for me,” to a reporter after sitting in on a seminar given by Pauling in 1931.

Each successive article in the “Nature of the Chemical Bond” series built upon the theories of part one, and described a different aspect of the chemical bond. The third paper in the series outlined the differences between covalent bonds (when two atoms share an electron virtually equally) and ionic bonds (when one atom takes the lion’s share of the electron time). He demonstrated that bonds in intermediate states between covalent and ionic could be explained by quantum mechanics and chemical observations.

Pauling’s fourth paper in the series described the famous electronegativity scale. Unlike the other papers which were heavy on theoretical physics, this paper was intuitive and the science was easy for other chemists to understand. Pauling’s electronegativity scale is a measure of how hard an atom can “tug” on an electron shared in a chemical bond. When an atom with a high “tugging” power shares an electron with a lower pull, the bond they share is more likely to be ionic. The scale allowed chemists to predict what type of bond two atoms will form when they react.

In the early 1930s, Pauling was publishing an average of one manuscript every five weeks—an impressive rate even today. Throughout this prolific period, he also devoted much time to teaching. He was known as an excellent lecturer and could make even the most difficult concepts easy to understand.

His teaching influenced another of his major works, The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals: An Introduction to Modern Structural Chemistry, a textbook aimed at graduate-level chemistry students that revolutionized the way chemistry was taught. It focused on how the quantum mechanics of a chemical bond can influence molecular structure and therefore the behaviour and properties of molecules. Max Perutz (Nobel Laureate, 1962) said that Pauling’s textbook showed that “chemistry could be understood rather than being memorized.” It quickly became accepted as a standard text and was translated into many languages.

The next stage of Pauling’s career moved away from chemistry and into biology. He made significant contributions to protein chemistry, genetics, and immunology. With others he determined the molecular mechanism behind sickle cell anemia. Pauling also contributed to the discovery of secondary structure elements in proteins that allow proteins to fold into functional forms. James Watson and Francis Crick rushed their work to explain the structure of DNA because they perceived that Pauling might discover it before them—they beat him and won the Nobel Prize in 1962. He also made valuable contributions to the war effort during the Second World War.

Yet, the Nobel Prize eluded him. It was only in 1954—over 20 years after his original contributions—that Pauling was finally honoured by the Nobel committee. Pauling first heard about his award from a reporter, first asking “what did I get it for?” He was happy to hear that he had won the award for his work since 1928. The committee had bent the rules and awarded Pauling an award for years of achievement.

Pauling’s influence on almost every branch of science is undeniable. He revolutionized the way scientists thought about chemistry. Francis Crick called Pauling “the father of molecular biology” and Pauling’s name can be heard in the same breath of such great thinkers as Newton, Galileo, and Einstein.

What you may not know:

After years of waiting for his Nobel in Chemistry, Pauling was soon afterwards awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. The second award made Pauling the only scientist to be singly awarded a Nobel Prize in two different categories.

This Nobel Prize was awarded to Pauling for his work from 1946 onwards in campaigning against the building, testing, and use of nuclear arms in war. In 1946, Pauling, Einstein, and seven other scientists founded the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to prevent the use of nuclear weapons from ever again creating the disasters seen in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

With aid and inspiration from his wife, Ava Helen Pauling, he wrote an appeal against nuclear weapons that was signed by 2,000 American scientists and 8,000 scientists abroad to petition the American government and the United Nations. Pauling wrote the book No More War! describing the collection of these signatures. He and Ava worked tirelessly on organizing conferences to promote peace.

For his work against nuclear weapons, Pauling was stripped of his passport by the American government and prevented from attending a scientific lecture tour of Europe because he was seen as a communist sympathizer and was described by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee as “the number one scientific name in virtually every major activity of the Communist peace offensive” in America. He was reissued his passport in order to attend his Chemistry Nobel Prize ceremony in 1954.

The Chair of the committee concluded his presentation speech to Pauling with the words: “Should Linus Pauling, through his tireless efforts, have contributed—if only a little—to restoring to science its ideals, then his campaign will in itself have been of such value that we living today can scarcely appreciate the full extent of the debt we owe him.”

Our year in lists


Blockhead—The Music Scene

Blockhead is a young grasshopper in the giant scheme of sampling but it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that he is approaching mastery. The Music Scene, his fourth solo album, can slay the mightiest of instrumental music snobs with its rolling rhythms, obscure vocal samples, and blending of genres. This is most obvious on a track like “The Daily Routine,” featuring street shouting that moves from a driving, devilish chant to a beautifully jazzy, almost Latin-like, rhythm and finally to a dreamy, electronic beat. The seamless interaction of these elements throughout the album is the mark of a genius.
Lola Landekic


In these troubled times, who better to turn to for solace than an unemployed, shaggy haired fuck-up bumming around San Francisco trying to forget a childhood spent in the Children of God cult? In 2009, Christopher Owens was the voice of a generation, tired and disappointed and maybe a little stoned, trying not to be bored with everything—the 00’s very own Paul Westerberg. But there’s still hope: the sunshine surf riffs, the promises of ex-lovers to be “friends forever,” and the paean of the so-catchy-Iggy-would-be-proud “Lust for Life”: “If I really tried with all of my heart, I could make a brand new start in love with you.” It may be a “Hellhole Ratrace,” but if we want to do some dancing too, here’s the soundtrack.—WYNDHAM BETTENCOURT-MCCARTHY

HEALTH—Get Color

Two years after the overplayed “Crimewave” was appropriated by Toronto’s
electro-darlings Crystal Castles, HEALTH’s sophomore release stands strong and separate from most of the electronic hipster bullshit they’re associated with. Expanding on their self-titled debut, Get Color explores the dynamics and crescendos not fully realized in their first effort. Tracks such as “Die Slow” (which boasts one of 2009’s heaviest intro riffs) and “We Are Water” have a more self-contained and finished feel to them. The album is decidedly more focused, and admittedly a little darker.—DAVID PIKE

Converge—Axe to Fall

The fragmentation and specialization of heavy and aggressive music, particularly in the last year, has become almost unbearable as bands create disparate genres differentiated only by particular riffs, time signatures, and tonal qualities. Their 2009 release Axe to Fall recalls the ferocity of 2001’s masterful Jane Doe (which still overshadows their subsequent releases), adding a more timeless, classic metal feel—all the while maintaining Jacob Bannon’s signature vocal style and Ballou/Newton’s unmistakable song writing.—DP

Dirty Projectors—Bitte Orca

Those irresistible grooves, those acrobatic vocals. If Paul Simon and David Byrne and Mariah Carey had a threesome, something like Bitte Orca could be the result. It’s more likely, though, that it could only be the product of Dave Longstreth’s genius, already demonstrated on 2007’s shimmering Rise Above. No band alive plays with rhythm the way the Projectors do—just try not to feel the beat of “No Intention” in your hips. Even the songs packed with sounds and short guitar thrash always have a cleanness and precision. Tambourine, reeds, and driving drums pulsate the elasticity of 2009’s best song, “Stillness is the Move,” with Amber Coffman’s voice building a bridge from “a diner in some remote city off the highway” straight up to heaven.—WBM

Grizzly Bear—Veckatimest

The pop gem of “Two Weeks” caught our ears first, sailing on choir harmonies so effortless they might send Brian Wilson back to bed yet again. But the magic truly happens in the vast soundscape of melancholy that builds throughout the album, quietly exploding on the magnificently orchestral “While You Wait for the Others.” Everyone has had a broken heart, but few musicians capture loss with such eloquence while saying so little. Thom Yorke’s robot heart dreams about making music this affecting, where the simplest words and sounds coalesce into an island of sentiment and longing, drifting in that cold East coast sea.—WBM

We Were Promised Jetpacks—These Four Walls

The introductory track, “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning,” was proof enough that We Were Promised Jetpacks is taking both indie rock and Britpop in a completely new direction. Reminiscent of American Midwest indie rock bands from the 1990s, Jetpacks have produced a consistently driving, yet inoffensive or abrasive gem of a record that is simultaneously introverted and extroverted. Tracks like “Quiet Little Voices” get one’s heart going without fail, and “An Almighty Thud” resonates far deeper for me sonically or personally than many of the records making everyone else’s year-end lists.—DP

Little Girls—Concepts

Little Girls seems to have snuck up on this city like a fog: heavy, enveloping, and more than a little mysterious. Though the album can be repetitive, the allure of Concepts comes from its combination of inarticulate lyrics, sharp fuzz, and sweet drum lines. It’s a hard little gem of noise and pop that stokes the embers of Joy Division’s legacy.—LL

Phoenix—Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

2009’s theoretical “best new band” was actually on their fourth album this year, but buzzy synth anthem “1901” made the masses pay attention to Phoenix like never before. The band’s poppiest effort to date, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix played into eighties revivalism with massive bursts of energy and charisma. “Lisztomania” was a particularly appropriate soundtrack for a John Hughes mash-up video.—Shoshana Wasser (because they couldn’t agree on a 10th album!)

Ume—Sun-shower EP

SPIN picked Ume in March 2009 as one of seven undiscovered bands worth a listen and I completely agree! Dear readers, get a clue: this band deserves your attention. Ume’s Sunshower EP couples rough instrumentation with a soft delicacy that is wonderfully palatable. The only problem with it is that it’s too short. If you like Sonic Youth, The Pixies or cute girls, don’t sleep on this band.—LL

Honourable Mentions

Wyndham: Sunset Rubdown, Neko Case
Lola: The Xx, Jay Reatard
Dave: Volcano Choir, Mono


A Serious Man

Following their nihilistic Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers’ film about a Minnesota physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his attempt to find God in the wilderness of his compounding misfortunes is likely their most personal and insightful movie. Director of photography Roger Deakins finds sharp beauty in the greys and blues of the film’s suburban wasteland.—Chris Berube


For his first horror film, Lars von Trier tackled the most frightening topic of all: his own Catholic guilt. Opening with a scenario of deep sexual shame, Antichrist becomes a painful religious parable about a world where all creation is evil, and woman, the giver of life, is the evilest of all. Anchored by extraordinary performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist is an unrelenting psychological horror film and an intensely personal artistic statement.—Will Sloan

The Bad Lieutenant—Port of Call: New Orleans

Hire Werner Herzog to direct a standard police procedural drama and you get…a Werner Herzog film. In collaboration with a hilariously unhinged Nicolas Cage giving his best performance in years, Herzog took the framework of a cops-and-robbers drama and turned it into a gonzo, hugely entertaining black comedy. Not just one of the director’s most pungently atmospheric films, but also one of his funniest.—WS

The Class

Laurent Cantet’s story of a year in the life of an inner city Parisian middle school wrings pathos out of a familiar kind of impotence in the modern education system. Watching well-meaning but jaded teacher François confront the contradictions and hypocrisy of a deeply fractured system—and his interactions with the kids stuck in the middle—is truly heartbreaking.—CB

Fantastic Mr. Fox

For his most recent film, Wes Anderson chose to forgo live-action in favour of animation. The stop-motion is jittery and the music is sparse, yet the movie never skips a beat. It feels entirely authentic and sure of itself with that characteristic Andersonian vibe present throughout. The lush, warm colours along with careful set and costume design are as pleasing to the eye as the characters’ voices are to the ear.—Tom Cardoso

In the Loop

There is a certain poetry to the feature-length blue streak of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) in this British comedy about the lead-up to a fictional war in the Middle East. The withering send-up of modern ego politics makes this a work of high modern satire. Introducing shibboleths like “fuckety bye,” “let them eat cock,” and “I will punch you into paralysis” into the canon of obscenity helps, too.—CB

Inglourious Basterds

This revisionist WWII action-drama epic is packed full of film and music references, as is to be expected when dealing with Quentin Tarantino. Along with the excellence of its quintessential Ennio Morricone-laden soundtrack, Christoph Waltz gives one of the most stunning performances of the year as Nazi official Hans Landa.—TC


Bad-ass doesn’t even begin to describe Liam Neeson in this crazy action romp through the streets of Paris. After 20 or so brief minutes of plot development, the film shifts into overdrive, with an insane body count matched only by the sheer balls of Neeson’s character—at one point, he even shoots a French cop’s wife. After a while, you can’t help but feel sorry for Neeson’s enemies in the film.—TC


Hollywood survivor James Toback was the perfect director for a documentary about another survivor, his close friend Mike Tyson. With no pretense of objectivity, Toback’s film simply lets Tyson deliver his life story in a monologue that is engrossing, revealing, often intelligent, and sometimes absolutely maddening. Freed from years of hype, scorn, and caricature, Toback finally gives us a chance to see that Mike Tyson is a man, warts and all.—WS

Honourable Mentions

Chris: Adventureland, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Interior Design (Michel Gonry’s third of Tokyo!)
Tom: 35 Shots of Rum, Avatar, The Hurt Locker
Will: Bruno, Observe and Report, Where the Wild Things Are


Oh Holy Father, where art thou?

The recent attack on the Pope during Christmas Eve Mass made me think about the relation we Catholics have with him. It’s extremely confusing to outsiders and, at times, it would be correct to say some people idolize him. To us, he is another father, one that we don’t always agree with but we trust to lead us through times good and bad.

One of the most memorable events of my family’s Christmas vacation will be standing in horror 20 feet away from where the attack happened.

After four hours of lines, security checks, and rain, we made it into the standing section as the doors were closing. As the curtain at the back of the church opened, a parade of cardinals, bishops, priests and other clergy marched out before Benedict XVI made his grand entrance.

The crowd erupted. As whenever the Pope appears in public, a mass of outstretched arms holding cameras followed him. Every Catholic, no matter how lapsed, was filled with both a spirit of awe and a savage instinct to push everyone, young and old, out of the way.

I caught a glimpse of the Pope seconds before he turned the corner and was attacked. We could only see the camera mob, but knew something had gone wrong when a terrifying collective scream rose and echoed through the ancient walls of St. Peter’s Basilica.

For about 10 seconds everyone remained silent, glancing at each other, telepathically exchanging the same concern for our Holy Father’s old age. As the Pope got back on his feet, a man cried “Viva il Papa!” (“Long live the Pope!”). The church erupted in applause and cheering as the 81-year-old man made his stride up to the altar.

Quite often I find myself at odds with the Vatican. There are aspects of Church dogma that I either disagree with or am baffled by. The Church has a history of abominably oppressive actions that are hard to swallow, though moves are being taken to heal and reconcile them. I also get upset with public relation nightmares, like when Benedict XVI spoke out against condoms on his flight to Africa last March with wording that practically asked the media to misquote him.

And yet, I respect the Pope and his office. He keeps the billions of Catholics throughout the world united in a way that no other group is, especially in a world that increasingly oversimplifies religious thought and treats it with hostility. Catholics trust him to lead a tradition that has gone through trouble and change.

At the end of the Mass, the Pope blessed a traditional creche (nativity display) then walked through the back curtain behind Swiss guards and men in suits. En route he decided, seemingly on a whim, to bless the foreheads of three small children in the crowd. For me, the gesture symbolized both the resonance of real face-to-face encounters as well as the Pope’ role as a father figure to billions.

UBC student union fails to impeach execs

Two student politicians at the University of British Columbia will keep their jobs after facing possible impeachment for filing a human rights complaint to the United Nations over unaffordable education. President Blake Frederick and VP external Tim Chu of the Alma Mater Society have instead had heavy restrictions placed on their powers.

An hour before the meeting to impeach the execs, an 18-page legal opinion from AMS’s law firm, Davis LLP, informed the council that a recall or an impeachment motion would be illegal. The firm advised instead to censure, or formally reprimand, the two executives.

Despite the lack of an impeachment motion, over 200 students attended the council meeting on Dec. 7. Council unanimously passed a motion to censor Frederick and Chu and then a subsequent motion requiring the execs to report their activities on an hourly basis. At the meeting, Frederick called the UN complaint a “media stunt that was meant to engage public discussion about tuition.”

Frederick’s first hourly report has already stirred up some discussion, with activities like “Bubble Tea Break (2pm-2:30pm at the UBC Village)” and “Facebook (2:15pm-2:30pm).”

The AMS has scheduled its annual general meeting two weeks earlier than usual, on Feb. 12, to further punish Frederick and Chu. The new executive is officially brought in at the AGM.

According to the Facebook group “We oppose the AMS impeachment of Blake Frederick and Tim Chu,” Chu is quoted as saying that filing the UN complaint cost around $6,000. Frederick said it cost another $6,000 to get the legal opinion on the removal of directors.

U of T student lands Rhodes scholarship

Erin Fitzgerald has been awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which will provide a stipend and tuition expenses at the University of Oxford for two years, with an option for a third year. Each year, 11 Rhodes Scholarships are earmarked for Canadians, with two going to Ontario residents. Fitzgerald will graduate in May 2010 with an Honours BA in international relations and political science.

Established in 1903, the Rhodes Scholarship considers academic distinction, citizenship, and extracurricular activities. The award is named after Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), the British businessman and politician who founded the diamond mining corporation DeBeers. Rhodes is best known for his ardent support for colonialism, accumulating his wealth to the detriment of oppressed peoples.

Scholarships are nothing new to Fitzgerald. Thanks to a bevy of scholarships, including $25,000 from U of T, $16,000 from the province, and $20,000 from Coca-Cola, her father’s employer, she is debt-free.

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Fitzgerald has an excellent academic record, and graduated from high school with a 99.5 per cent average, the highest in Toronto. Nithum Thain, the other Rhodes Scholar from Ontario, has a 4.0 GPA. He is currently in his second year of his Doctor of Philosophy in mathematics at McGill University. He plans to do a Master’s in developmental economics at Oxford in September 2010.

It should be noted the scholarship looks for more than grades. Such was the case with Kofi Hope, a U of T alumnus who became a Rhodes Scholar in 2007. “In my final year I got straight A’s for the first time in my life and was pretty much spending as much time on activism as school, if not more time on activism,” Hope said.

Fitzgerald spent a summer working as an intern at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Another summer she was at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., where she co-authored with Anthony Cordesman, a well-known security analyst, reports on Afghanistan, Iraq, and U.S. strategic planning.

At U of T, Fitzgerald is the chair of the G8 Research Group, a network of students and faculty who monitor how well G8 and G5 members comply with commitments they make at G8 Summits. She attended the Toyako Hokkaido Summit in 2008 as a research analyst, and will lead a G8RG delegation to the Muskoka Summit this year.

Fitzgerald is the fundraising director and former president of the Hart House Debating Club, editor-in-chief of The Attaché Journal of International Affairs, and an undergraduate representative on the University Affairs Board of U of T’s Governing Council.

So how does she do it? “Organization is key. The skills that I learned from karate—discipline, focus—play a big role in my ability to maintain a balance between my GPA and extra-curricular activities,” said Fitzgerald, who has a black belt. “Because I have learned to focus on the task at hand, I am able to avoid procrastination and get to work quickly, which lets me take on and complete more things.”

At Oxford, Fitzgerald will pursue a Master’s in Philosophy in International Relations with a focus on military and strategic studies. She plans to get a law degree afterward, at an Ivy League university.

Canadian content: Proroguing Parliament illustrates Harper’s hypocrisy

It may be easy to forget, but Stephen Harper used to champion the supremacy of Parliament.

As recently as 2005, Harper remained enormously critical of parliamentary misconduct when Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government made use of every trick available to avoid or delay a confidence vote.

In a speech delivered on May 3, 2005, the Conservative leader gave a concise and persuasive defense of parliamentary democracy. “The whole principle of a democracy is that the government is supposed to be able to face the House of Commons any day on a vote,” he said. “This government now has the deliberate policy of avoiding a vote. This is a violation of the most fundamental principle of our democracy.” That speech is now particularly surprising given the events of December 2008, and those that have unfolded in recent weeks.

As both a citizen activist and an MP for the now defunct Reform Party and its short-lived successor, the Canadian Alliance, the future Prime Minister campaigned against the injustices of Liberal governments throughout the 1990s, and was a leading proponent of parliamentary reform and the democratization of the Senate.

Since he began his tenure as Prime Minister, Harper has abandoned his goal of a transparent and accountable Parliament. The current scandal over the release of documents concerning the torture of Afghan detainees is only yet another illustration of a government that has taken the practices of secrecy, dishonesty, and power consolidation to new extremes.

Towards the end of the fall session a majority of MPs voted that the government should release a series of documents and memos related to the alleged torture of Afghan detainees after their release by Canadian forces. That order was refused.

Harper’s sentiments from 2005 regarding Canadian parliamentary democracy have increasingly become alien to their author, who last December used prorogation as a tactic to avoid a self-inflicted defeat by an opposition reacting sensibly to a partisan budget it could never have accepted.

Simultaneously, Harper and members of his caucus called the opposition arrangement “treasonous” and “undemocratic,” despite having entered into a similar coalition agreement with both the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party several years prior. Once again, the Prime Minister has prorogued Parliament, delaying the return of the House by several weeks. This time, he didn’t even have to visit Rideau Hall in person—he phoned.

The move is widely seen as part of a three-pronged strategy. First, it allows the Conservatives time to regroup after a shaky end to the fall session and to use the coming Olympics as an opportunity to advertise their brand. Second, with such a time lapse, the opposition parties will have difficulty keeping the Afghan detainee issue alive. Third, it allows the Conservatives to stack the Senate with more partisan appointees, giving them an unprecedented majority in the Second Chamber and control of its valuable committees.

Each component of this strategy mirrors a different cause once championed by the Prime Minister. Shameless self-aggrandizement, a lack of transparency and openness, and the appointment of cronies to an undemocratic and unaccountable Senate were all once (rightly) criticized by Harper, who now embodies each practice to a far greater extent than his Liberal predecessors.

Putting aside the marked hypocrisy and dishonesty implicit in these practices, the Prime Minister’s conduct in recent weeks (and in December 2008) raises serious questions about the very functioning of Canadian democracy. In contrast to the American republican system, our federalism lacks the checks and balances of an elected President and two separate houses. In Canada, the diverse and complex organ of Parliament is supreme.

In the Westminster tradition on which Canadian democracy is based, the Prime Minister must at all times be accountable to elected representatives, something our current leader once understood. Not only would prorogation transgress the most fundamental principles of our democracy, but it would also set a dangerous precedent in which the legitimate democratic rights of the majority are subject to the political convenience of the few.

An unhealthy debate

While many would like to see the proposed U.S. health care reform, if not a much stronger version of it, passed, Republican objections are understandable, particularly with individualistic and anti-government nature of U.S. culture and politics taken into account. The legislation is not perfect, and there are a number of fair arguments to be made against it, but these arguments must be made in good faith, and they must be predicated on facts, not myths and blatant lies.

On Dec. 24 the U.S. Senate approved its health care reform bill by a vote of 60-39, bringing the debate that has defined Barack Obama’s first year in office closer to resolution. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation on Nov. 7 by a vote of 215-200. The bills will now be sent to a conference committee, where representatives from the Senate and House will work to combine the two pieces of legislation. The most obvious difference is that the House bill calls for a government-run insurance plan (a “public option”), and the Senate bill does not.

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Democrats argue that health care reform is a moral imperative given the tens of millions of Americans lacking coverage, and an economic necessity given rapidly increasing costs. Republicans primarily take issue with the expansion of government that the reform will entail, which they argue is economically unsustainable, and that the bill will require individuals to obtain coverage or be fined, which they see as encroaching on civil liberties.

On Dec. 14, Republican senator John Thune stated during a speech to the Senate floor that “every American family is going to be paying, starting next year, $600 a year up to the year 2013.” This is simply not true. The fact is that the majority of tax increases won’t begin until 2013 and only major tax increase that would come into effect this year is a five per cent surtax on voluntary plastic surgery.

Democratic senator Al Franken, who spoke after Thune, paraphrased his brief conversation with Thune regarding the speech: “I said, ‘I didn’t hear your whole speech.’ And he went, ‘Oh, man, that’s too bad.’ I said, ‘Did you actually happen to mention any of the benefits that do kick in right away?’ And he said, ‘Ah, no.’ Again, we are entitled to our own opinions. We’re not entitled to our own facts. Benefits kick in right away.”

Ironically, Franken’s later assertion that “the majority of benefits kick in on day one,” was also false. He was correct that a fair amount do, but the U.S. Congressional Budget Office—a non-partisan federal agency that serves a purpose similar to that of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer—has stated that the majority of the bill’s benefits begin in 2014.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio has stated that the House health care reform bill “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia,” that the Senate health care bill will “levy a new ‘abortion premium’ fee on Americans in the government-run plan,” and that the Democrats’ plan will “[force] Americans off of their current health coverage and onto a government-run plan.” None of those statements are true, and while Boehner has displayed a particularly flagrant disinterest in facts (all the more shameful given his title), his statements represent just the tip of an iceberg of misinformation floating around the health care debate.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah beautifully summed up everything wrong with the debate when he complained that the bill, which he has claimed could lead to the end of the two-party system in America, is too long. “It is 2,074 pages long. It is enough to make you barf.” What Hatch and other members of congress have failed to realize is that part of their job is to read and understand the legislation so they can represent their constituents’ interests. Not since the Social Security Act of 1965 has such a huge overhaul of American social policy been so close to fruition, and it’s no surprise that the bill is as long as it is. Ignorance is no defence.

Congress, like court, is predicated on the idea that all involved are telling the truth. When congressmen no longer appear to be acting in good faith, debate becomes nothing more than a platform for competitive lying, real progress becomes more and more improbable, and the public’s trust in not only their representatives, but the entire system, erodes. American citizens—especially those whose lives lie in the balance—should be treated with the respect they deserve.

Stem cells may save hearts

Recent research suggests that stem cell–derived cardiac cells may enhance the treatment of heart disease. Peter Zandstra, professor in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at U of T and Canada Research Chair in stem cell bioengineering, collaborated with professor Milica Radisic and Gordon Keller’s research group at the University Health Network to develop engineered heart tissue and cardiac myocytes (commonly known as cardiac cells). These cells effectively mimic certain features of heart tissue.

Zandstra and Radisic recreated the heart’s environment in the lab to better understand how individual cardiac myocytes integrate with each other. “[To do this] we created an artificial cardiac patch, into [which] we injected different test cell populations under different conditions. We found the progenitor cell integrates [most efficiently],” says Zandstra. The progenitor cell is derived from a stem cell. It is more developed than the stem cell it originated from, but not as mature as an adult cardiac myocyte.

The progenitor cell proliferates during the adolescent phase, allowing it to easily integrate in the engineered heart tissue. Its stem cell counterpart is too dissimilar from the adult cardiac myocyte found in the heart tissue, thus it does not possess the ability to integrate successfully. Similarly, mature cardiac myocytes are too undifferentiated to proliferate.

“[Although] these [adult] cells function very well in heart tissue, they die during a heart attack. When one transplants adult cells, they [lack] the developmental capacity to reconnect with the [other] adult cells,” explains Zandstra. This failure to reconnect occurs because adult cardiac cells are not accustomed to receiving signals from the heart tissue, and are therefore unable to locate where they are within the tissue itself.

Additionally, the progenitor cell must follow the rhythms of the tissue in which it integrates, or rather it must be electro-mechanically equivalent to the host tissue. “If a cell creates its own rhythms, it might create a cardiac arrhythmia which is problematic to the heart,” says Zandstra. Cardiac arrhythmia can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death. Moreover, the cell must be capable of generating the same contraction forces as the host tissue. If the injected progenitor cell lacks the mechanical strength of contraction, it may weaken the heart as a whole.

Progenitor cells were injected into the engineered heart tissue fabricated from neonatal mouse or rat heart cells to test the integration. The engineered heart tissue acted as a scaffold onto which the injected cells attached. “Electrical [stimulation] of the scaffold caused the cells to realign and start to function as a [whole] piece of tissue,” explains Zandstra.

“[Prior to this research] no one had used engineered heart tissue to screen cell transplantation of progenitor cells,” says Zandstra. “Most people tried to inject tissue right into the heart, but hadn’t been able to understand how cells integrate with each other.” Injecting cells directly into an animal heart is difficult since the environment cannot be controlled. Recreating the environment in a dish allows researchers to observe and analyze the integration of cardiac cells.

While Zandstra acknowledges that the in vitro recreation of cell cultures in two dimensions was successful, he believes that the three-dimensional environment of the tissue they have created is more advantageous since it better mimics the heart’s environment.

The study was funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009. This research offers a way to screen various cell types that could be used for cardiac therapy. “We are hoping that the results we are generating in this model will accelerate the development of new therapies,” says Zandstra.