When particles collide

This past August, the University of Toronto hosted the 21st annual Hadron Collider Physics Symposium, where the first results of the Large Hadron Collider were presented and shared amongst particle physicists.

This year, the results included the reappearance of particles captured by previous particle accelerators, as well as evidence that the LHC can capture higher energy particles than expected. The event represents the obstacles overcome by LHC over the 20 years of its development — from vast feats of civil engineering, to firing up experiments that will hopefully explain the universe’s earliest stages.

The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator (and fridge: the inside of the LHC is -271°C, making it colder than outer space). It is owned by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and is located in Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is a 27 km long underground tunnel, composed of two general-purpose detectors, CMS and ATLAS.

The detectors are essentially enormous cameras designed to take snapshots of particle collisions at a rate of 40 million frames per second. As for information flow, the amount of data collected by the LHC can fill 100,000 dual layer DVDs every year, solving the mystery of the relationship between physicists and caffeine. The LHC works by launching two beams of protons (or “hadron” particles) at 99 per cent the speed of light, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and — you guessed it — smashing them to analyze the resulting particle decay.

These high precision proton beams are monitored around the clock by scientists such as U of T physics Professor William Trischuk, a TRIUMF scientist and ATLAS team member. The beams inside the accelerator must be controlled so that they do not stray and cause damage to the device. In fact, it is crucial that precautions are taken for any part of the LHC, because technical problems can delay the operation for months. One such incident occured in 2007 with a broken magnet, and again in 2009 when scientists discovered vacuum leaks.

The results from the LHC are significant to the study of physics because there are many contentious issues that lie unresolved regarding the make-up of the fundamental building blocks of the universe. What we learn from the LHC may very well confirm or destroy the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the current model of the elementary particles that make up all matter.
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To give you an idea of what’s at stake, replacing the Standard Model of Particle Physics is probably harder than doing a decathlon, learning Icelandic, and sitting through Gigi. If that’s not enough, throw in river dancing and completing a degree in Engineering Science. All before breakfast.

A hot topic that comes to mind when people think of the LHC is the Higgs boson particle. The Standard Model has already gone through many trials testing the kinds of particles that constitute it: leptons, quarks, and the force carriers (such as the photon). However, the mass of these particles, especially the Z boson and W boson, relies on the Higgs boson as the key to the origin of particle mass.

According to U of T Professor Pierre Savard, a TRIUMF scientist and ATLAS team member, the Higgs boson is not made up of anything. It is the simplest particle with no spin and no electric charge.

An interesting detail about the Higgs boson is that it generates a Higgs Field. John Ellis of CERN describes the Higgs Field as analogous to a field of snow in which heavy particles that travel through the Higgs Field leave a bigger imprint than lighter particles do. The reason why some particles are heavier than others is simply due to how much they interact with the Higgs Field.

Despite this and other captivating images the Higgs may generate, it is important to keep in mind that the Higgs boson is not the sole answer to the origins of the universe and life itself. The coining of the Higgs as the “God Particle” by Leon Lederman, director of Fermilab, unintentionally creates a misconstrued perception of the Higgs in the mass media.

As experimental high-energy physics professor and ATLAS team member Robert Orr confirms, this colloquial definition of the Higgs is not very descriptive of what the Higgs really is. The Higgs may have “god-like” power in confirming or disconfirming the Standard Model, but it is not scientifically accurate to assign it an alias with religious connotations.

According to Professor Trischuk, “Finding the Higgs boson will confirm the Standard Model of Particle Physics as an accurate description of the universe — or at least until the model starts to break down before the precise moment of the Big Bang.” The Higgs theory will work until it is falsified using the LHC. And so for now, the Standard Model currently holds. However, a good example of an LHC-tested and disproved theory was that Earth had magnetic monopoles.

There are many exciting and terrifying conclusions that will result whether or not the Higgs is proven. If the Higgs is found, physicists will have to continue to better understand the nature of the Higgs and its ability to explain particle mass. But there are many theories that might remain unanswered, such as gravity, which continues to puzzle physicists.

It is also unknown whether the discovery of the Higgs will solve the great problem of missing mass and dark energy in the universe. Even if the Higgs is found, it will be some time before scientists are certain that it is a fundamental particle.

As Professor Savard points out, it is still not clear if quarks are fundamental particles. Quarks are point particles, meaning that physicists cannot see what is going on inside them. “For now the quark is a point particle, but we are not sure if it is fundamental,” says Professor Savard. “Looking at the history of particle physics, we see changes from the atom to the proton and neutron, and so on. So there is still a chance that the Higgs may be made up of more particles.”

Although it is very unlikely the Higgs will be found in the near future, this may be good news for busy particle physics professors. “If we find the Higgs, then I need to write new lectures,” jokes Professor Savard.

Given the question of what he believes students should take away from the LHC, Professor Savard replies that students may benefit from expanding their minds to harness the relationship between the “infinitely small to the infinitely big” in our universe.

Professor Orr eloquently adds that students can learn to appreciate the way the universe is “subtle, beautiful, and we’re only starting to learn how it works.”

Decline in essay assignments

Increased class sizes and a decrease in the number of teachers and teaching assistants has forced professor Robert Brym to replace essays, short answers, and any written work from his first-year sociology class, with multiple-choice tests and exams.

“Essays are critically important to an undergraduate education,” said Brym, whose experience in having to assign few essays is not uncommon. A recent survey released by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations claims that the no-essay trend is a provincial problem.

“Multiple-choice is really just asking you to retrieve empirical information. An essay requires you to have a thesis, a plan, and a clear line of thinking that pushes the intellectual boundaries of a student to think critically,” said confederation President Mark Langer.

The report surveyed 1,400 professors, of which one in three claim that classes have become so large they have been forced to push the essay aside and succumb to solely multiple-choice testing.

Associate Chair of the English Department Nick Mount has also noticed what he calls a gradual decline in essays. “It has gone down from the amount it was in the past, though, over a period of 40 to 50 years. Back when I was an undergraduate I had to write an essay every two weeks.

“As a faculty member, I would say: I want more essays, more TAs, and smaller classes,” said Mount, “But as associate chair, I know how finite the resources are, and I know how hard we are struggling to maintain our standards with the resources we have. It’s hard. There’s no two ways about it. I think so far, we are holding our own. If we dip much lower it’s going to be hard.”
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Professor Mount has continued to assign three essays a year for his first year English courses. “I don’t really think a student learns how to think unless he or she is doing the thinking themselves.”

Brym has cut essays in SOC101 due to a lack of a labour pool to mark 1,400 essays, a reality brought on by university-funding decisions. “The money is not being squandered. Other courses are more expensive to teach. For example, science courses with labs use expensive equipment. However, the university has apparently decided to allocate very little money to [the course] Intro Sociology…. A colleague of mine at McMaster teaches an introductory sociology class the same size as U of T’s but she has 22 TA’s compared to my seven.”

“The increase in class size is not a force of nature,” explained Professor Brym. “It’s a result of provincial funding cuts and internal, administrative priorities, and decisions.”

Tutorials to Brym’s course have also been cut. “There are few tutorials — just seven this year, which is not enough…. Students used to attend a tutorial every week. That means they would have something like 20 tutorials a year. We’ve been cut to a third of the old rate. That being said, the cutback happened years ago.”

Mount acknowledges that there are ways to continue critical thinking in the classroom, but stresses that the essay is a crucial part of the education process. “Discussions and tutorials in class also help contribute to a student’s development to think critically.”

Langer adds that this critical thinking is central to the true role of universities. “We are not only churning out people to have careers…. We are also training people to think critically. In a democracy it is important to have an informed and critically thinking citizenry.”

Brym suggests that this shortcoming may be addressed through creative thinking from the university. “We could hire senior undergraduate students to work as TAs. Those who have done well in the first year course could be trained as teaching assistants and perhaps even receive a course credit for their labour.

“It really comes down to how much the administration is willing to invest in undergraduate education.”

New buses added to Mississauga Transit fleet

MiWay, the new Mississauga transit buses and routes, have been designed and developed to make the commute to and from the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus more comfortable and convenient.

Students travelling to UTM on the 110 University Express (City Centre Transit Terminal – UTM – Clarkson GO) or the 101 Oakville Express (Islington Subway Station – UTM – Oakville Core Terminal) will be able to experience the new blue MiExpress buses starting on October 4. There will be 10 new hybrid-electric buses dedicated to running on these routes regularly.

“Students will enjoy more comfortable seating, reading lights, power outlets for laptops and larger windows,” Patricia Runzer, a marketing representative for the City of Mississauga Transportation and Works Department, told The Varsity.

On Wednesday, Sept. 8, UTM students got a sneak peek of the new fleets before they hit the streets, reported UTM’s campus newspaper, The Medium. The bus was parked outside the Student Centre with Runzer by its side.

“We’re here to show off our new buses and to show students our new name,” she said, adding that students seemed to be most excited about the power outlets.

The modern features offered on the bus may be a plus for students but, also appealing about this new transit system is the reduced wait times between buses during high-traffic periods.

MiWay will be offering two types of service to UTM: MiExpress (blue buses for express travel to UTM via routes 101 and 110) and MiLocal (orange buses for local travel via Routes 1C and 44).
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On September 6, just in time for back to school, the MiExpress Route 110 University began departing from the City Centre Transit Terminal every eight minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and every 17 minutes during the midday rush. From the Clarkson GO station, the buses now leave every 15 minutes during the rush hours, and every 34 minutes during the midday. In the evening, buses depart stops every 30 minutes. The MiExpress Route 101 Oakville Express departs from stops every 20 minutes during rush hours only.

Director of Mississauga Transit, Geoff Marinoff, said the 42 new blue express buses will serve passengers traveling on Mississauga’s current network of five express routes that extends across the city and connect to popular destinations “such as the Islington Subway Station, Westwood Mall, Meadowvale Town Centre, City Centre Transit Terminal, Clarkson GO Station, University of Toronto Mississauga campus, and the Airport Corporate Centre.”

These new buses and bus routes are part of Mississauga’s Bus Rapid Transit project in partnership with GO Transit, and will ease commuting throughout the GTA. The $249 million BRT project is currently underway and scheduled to begin operating in 2013. The project is planned to create an 11-mile dedicated east and west corridor running alongside Highway 403, which will allow for faster travel between Oakville, Mississauga, and Toronto.

“This transit project is unprecedented and the largest the city has undertaken in its history,” said Mayor Hazel McCallion in a press release to the City of Mississauga. “It represents the future of Mississauga and our Council’s commitment to develop transit. The BRT will give people more and better transit options and help support continued growth.”

Muhammad Riaz, a first-year commerce student, is one of the students who will benefit from MiWay. Riaz told The Varsity he is looking forward to the reduced wait times and dedicated buses.

“The buses coming more frequently and having set routes to help UTM students will definitely make my commute easier,” said Riaz, who commutes from the Square One area.

As evolutionary as this transit system may be, it does not seem to be convenient for some students or employees commuting to UTM from within Mississauga’s borders.

Zamour Johnson, 18, who works in the food court on campus and is considering attending UTM next year, said MiWay doesn’t make his commute to work easier simply because the route doesn’t pass through his neighbourhood at Mississauga Rd. and the QEW.

“There aren’t any direct routes to UTM on my side of the city which makes it incredibly difficult to get anywhere if I don’t have a ride by car,” explained Johnson.

These new buses also won’t help nor hinder Nicole Ferreira’s commute from Toronto to Mississauga. Ferreira, a second-year student double majoring in geography and geographical systems, takes advantage of the free shuttles offered from the St. George campus to UTM. However, as a vegetarian and self-proclaimed green activist, Ferreira admires the city of Mississauga for its switch to hybrid buses.

“The UTM campus actively promotes the importance of maintaining it’s clean, green environment despite being built in the centre of a forest it holds much of what it took from it,” she said. “I love the campus because of that so adding these routes plus hybrid/electric makes it so such more awesome for me to say ‘I go to UTM.'”

A mobile site which will display the next three departure times or the full schedule for any day of the week for any bus stop in Mississauga will be available for smart phones soon. An Iphone application is also in the works.

For more information on the new buses or routes, visit miway.ca

A head start on tax season

With all hustle of back-to-school, taxes are the last thing students want to think about. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario has released their annual tax tips for students. The tips are essentially a list of options, benefits, and credits available for students, which can turn into tax deductions or even some extra money.

“Many people, notably students, believe that if you don’t owe any taxes, you don’t have to file them,” says Jennifer Horner, a senior manager specializaing in national taxes at BDO Canada. “This is true, but you would be missing out on future benefits as well as immediate benefits in not doing so.”

If students have a scholarship, or living, moving, or transit expenses, they are eligible to file a tax return. If a student’s income is lower than $10,382, there is the added bonus that they won’t actually have to pay income taxes.

Post-secondary students are eligible for a non-refundable tax credit to assist with textbook costs. “The textbook tax credit is calculated based on $65 for each month a student qualifies for the full-time education tax credit, and $20 for each month the student qualifies for the part-time education tax credit,” said a media release from the Ontario Chartered Accountants.

Students can also receive tax credits for moving expenses and transit expenses. Even if students are not expecting a tax refund, filing a tax return could prove beneficial in the future. “Students with earned income should always file a tax return because it will generate Registered Retirement Savings Plan contribution room,” said a media release from the Ontario Chartered Accountants.

If a student does not claim their tax credits, they can transfer the cost of tuition fees to any supporting parent, grandparent, or spouse, who can then get tax deductions. The “supporting adult” will have a significant yearly income, and unlike the student they are supporting, is paying taxes and can immediately benefit from the tax deduction.

Horner suggests that many students are hesitant to complete what they believe is a confusing tax claim process.

“From a philosophical point of view…the government wants you to be able to complete your own tax return. It’s not supposed to be so complicated that you can’t figure it out,” said Horner.

Three faculty receive medals from the Royal Society

Three University of Toronto faculty have been recognized with medals by the Royal Society of Canada for outstanding achievement in research and scholarship. Six additional faculty were elected members of the organization.

The Royal Society of Canada presents scholars with 12 medals and awards every year. Founded in 1882, the society is the oldest association of scientists and scholars in Canada. The society is dedicated to promoting education and the advancement of knowledge in the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

Robert Bothwell of the Munk School of Global Affairs, Shahrzad Mojab of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and Andrei Yudin of the Department of Chemistry received medals in their respective fields.

Robert Bothwell

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Professor Robert Bothwell was awarded the J.B. Tyrrell Historical Medal. A scholar of international history and Canadian political history, Bothwell received the medal specifically for his work on the history of Canada.

The RSC recognizes the work of scholars who integrate their teachings with their research, an attribute Bothwell claims helps him guide his work and shape his conclusions.

“There is no dichotomy between research and teaching — to me, they are part of a whole,” he said in an e-mail to The Varsity.

Bothwell jokes that he expected students to “strike matches on [him] to see if [he] was sufficiently statute-like,” after they found out about his medal.

Currently, Professor Bothwell is the Director of the International Relations program, and a published author of a dozen or so books including the Penguin History of Canada.

Shahrzad Mojab

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OISE Professor Shahrzad Mojab is the winner of the Award in Gender Studies. The award recognizes significant contributions by Canadian scholars in the humanities and social sciences to furthering understanding of issues concerning gender.

“I consider myself a scholar-activist,” Mojab told The Varsity in an interview. Her work is centered on issues concerning women, war, and learning. Feminism, anti-racism pedagogy, and adult education in comparative and global perspectives are also key components in her work.

The greatest hallmark of Mojab’s work lies in the innovative ways in which she disseminates her research projects. Her recent project Memories, Memoirs and the Arts featured female political prisoners from Iran relating their stories through different mediums of film, dance and story telling workshops

Mojab’s work has been cited extensively in the Canadian court system and in UN studies and reports pertaining to gender and equality.

She considers the award an honour, but she insists her colleagues and students deserve the recognition as much as she does: “I like to think about it as a contribution to a collective. My work is built upon the work of many of my other colleagues at the institute. It’s also the encouragement, support, and demand of my students who push the boundaries of my scholarship to be a better researcher and teacher.”

Andrei Yudin

Chemistry Professor Andrei Yudin is the winner of the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry that recognizes outstanding research in any branch of physics.

Yudin has developed versatile mixtures that allow rapid synthesis of complex biologically active molecules.

According to Yudin, his lab has produced a synthetic reaction that can convert proteins into rings, forming molecules with immunosuppressive properties that can be useful after organ transplantation. His method of making the molecules has been used in collaboration with other labs.

“We have a number of therapeutic targets in mind and at the moment we are concentrating on making molecules with antibacterial and anticancer properties on the basis of reactions my students and I developed,” said Yudin in an e-mail to The Varsity.

Yudin plans to celebrate this honor with a night of drinking with his lab group.

“It is a closely knit lab and we like to celebrate these things because there is just so much hard work that goes into advancing science.”

The awards and medals attached to each of these honours will be given out at an official awards ceremony at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa on November 27.

UTSC has new Dean of Student Affairs

UTSC has a new Dean of Student Affairs. Desmond Pouyat has filled the position following the summer retirement of former dean, Tom Nowers.

Pouyat joins UTSC at a time when he feels the campus is experiencing significant growth with the new instructional centre set to open next year, the coming Pan Am facility, and what he says is the university’s plan to grow the student body and internationalize the campus.

“UTSC is a diverse and rich community and [I have] an opportunity to be a part of that. As a person who grew up in Jamaica and a person of colour, to be here at this time is a fantastic opportunity,” said Pouyat.

Pouyat left Jamaica when he was 19, coming to Canada as a landed immigrant. He attended McMaster University for an undergraduate degree in political science and sociology and decided to stay.

Initially wanting to go into law, he chose a Masters of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University because law focused more on a winner and a loser than helping people accomplish things together. “It’s been great because [social work] allowed me to do many different things,” said Pouyat.

He proceeded to work in social work services at a psychiatric hospital at McMaster, became an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, and then moved to St. Joseph’s hospital in Chatham, to work in children’s mental health services.

Pouyat first moved into student-related services at McMaster two and a half years after Chatham. He became the Director of the Centre for Student Development and stayed on for seven years before moving to UTSC.

His interest in student services comes from the opportunity he sees in working with what he terms as some of the most fortunate people on the planet, those able to attend university. “It is a privilege to be here…with people who are going to be the next generation’s leaders impacting life decades to come. The chance to work with each incoming class is a huge opportunity.”

He is glad to work at UTSC because it allows him to expand the work he did at McMaster, and allows him to work closer to home — he commuted every day from East York. He is also happy to have come out successful after such a competitive hiring process.

“I want to build a relationship with student government…and work in partnership with the campus community. I want to [make] sure goals are set to…create a fantastic campus and student life experience.”

Pouyat hopes to create a transformative experience for students through his work as Dean. He wants them to enjoy their university life and feel supported, safe, comfortable, respected, and above all, successful. “I hope [students] won’t be the same person when [they] finish as when [they] started.”

Outside of work, Pouyat is very interested in sports. He looks forward to attending games and possibly participating in a few, such as cricket on the new pitch he said is being set up.

Nowers retired in June 2010 citing his desire to develop his interests, travel, and spend time with his family.

To catch a cheat

When it comes to stories of cheating and plagiarism, Kristi Gourlay has heard them all. “The availability of the Internet, students’ facility with computers and other technology have made cheating easier, but it’s also made it easier to detect.” “Generally speaking, offenders tend to fall into three broad categories,” said Gourlay, manager of the Office of Academic Integrity at the Faculty of Arts and Science. “The ones who honestly didn’t know they were doing something wrong…the ones who made a bad choice because they were experiencing difficulties of some kind…and the ones who set out to cheat deliberately, calculating that they won’t get caught.”

One PhD student voluntarily confessed that his M.Sc. thesis contained fabricated data and sources, and had his master’s degree recalled. He received a six-month suspension, and faced a permanent notation on his academic record.

Another student paid someone to impersonate him and write his test. The student was suspended for five years and received a notation on his transcript for seven years.

In a love-gone-wrong story, two female students unknowingly dating the same male classmate were both talked into writing tests, papers, and exams under his name. When the two undergrads discovered the scam, they turned in their ex and attended his hearing as witnesses.

“In the end he faced [84 charges] of academic misconduct and was expelled,” recalled professor Edith Hillan, the U of T’s vice-provost of Faculty and Academic Life. “It was one of the more egregious examples of academic misconduct we’ve seen.”
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U of T takes academic integrity very seriously. “Academic integrity matters…because we want to maintain the very highest standards in terms of our teaching and research,” said Hillan. “It also matters from a student perspective because students want to know they are on a level playing field.”

Political science professor Stephen Clarkson notes that plagiarism was not always as strictly enforced as it is now. “The university…used to be very lax about plagiarism; it has now tightened and toughened up considerably, but the cheating problem remains very considerable.”

“Cheating because you think you can get away with it is a risky strategy,” said history professor Sean Hawkins. “Even if most people could get away with it, not all do, and the consequences are not pleasant.”

Plagiarism is not only unpleasant for students, but also for faculty. “All cases are horrible. The reasons for this are many, but paramount among these is the feeling of a violation of trust, which is to my mind the basis of our relationship with our students, and our students with us,” said Hawkins.

“With each instance, it makes me a progressively more suspicious reader. It makes me change assignments to try to avoid extending too much trust. It makes me wonder whether a wonderful sentence was written by the student or came from somewhere else.

“It stinks. It poisons. It sucks.”

Disclaimer: quotes by Kristi Gourlay originally appeared in a news.utoronto.ca article in September 2008.

Rethink the restructure

There has been quite a bit of discussion over the past few months over the future of the Faculty of Arts and Science. The faculty is currently engaged in a contentious academic planning process which has drawn criticism, both from organizations here on campus and from people all over the world. As it stands, the faculty faces a $22 million deficit this year, and an accumulated debt of somewhere in the vicinity of $60 million. In no uncertain terms, there are tough decisions which need to be made to ensure that the faculty can provide both a stable financial and academic future for its students.

Unfortunately for all involved, this academic planning process has become mired in mistrust and mixed messages, which threaten to hamper any chance of finding meaningful solutions to the problems of the faculty.

One of most controversial issues to come out of the Academic Plan is the proposed School of Languages and Literatures. During the initial planning process, the Arts and Science Students’ Union highlighted the woeful lack of language support in the faculty. In asking for more resources for languages, we stressed that language learning is not just about being able to converse, but being able to understand different ways of thinking. Obviously, this School of Languages and Literatures is not what we had in mind in terms of language support.

Dismantling East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature (to name two examples out of many), two incredibly diverse and interdisciplinary programs, and folding them into this proposed school is not the way to enhance the quality of education in our faculty.

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The furor around the proposed School of Languages and Literatures demonstrates exactly why the current academic planning process is as dysfunctional as it is. In order for something as important as a plan for the future of the faculty to succeed, it must take into account the needs of students, faculty, and the administration. In this case, students and faculty have been shut out of the most crucial aspects of the procedure. Much was made last year of the number of planning documents which were submitted for discussion from across the faculty, but when it came time to draft the actual plan, the doors were firmly shut in favour of expediency. That closed-door process and lack of consultation has given birth to the current uproar which threatens to derail the planning process, and U of T administration has only itself to blame.

All is not lost though. Nothing whatsoever in the plan has been approved yet. As of now the plan is just that: a plan. What needs to happen now is what needed to happen much earlier in the process: affected parties throughout the Faculty need to be brought in and made active creators of a renewed plan. This is no mere sentiment—the plan, as a number of faculty members have alluded to in letters to the Dean, will be “intellectually bankrupt” without the participation of those who have a direct connection to teaching and research in this faculty.

What cannot happen here, as happened with the disastrous Flat Fees program in 2009, is the inrtoduction of bad ideas in as short a time as possible, all in the name of saving the faculty. True, the faculty has a tough road ahead of it, but there is no reason, with thoughtful planning, why these challenges cannot be overcome. At this moment the gravest threat to the Faculty of Arts and Science is not the financial problems it faces, but the threat posed by those who claim to be its savior. We must do better.

Gavin Nowlan is the President of the Arts and Science Students Union.