Saudi school scores Sargent

Electrical and computer engineering professor Ted Sargent was recently awarded a $10-million grant from the brand new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Sixty universities worldwide put forward nominees for the founding scholars of the new university, which will open its doors September 2009.

Sargent, 34, is relatively young for a professor of Canada Research Chair calibre. The U of T and Queen’s University grad was named one of the world’s top young innovators by MIT’s Technology Review in 2003, and a research leader in the “Scientific American 50” in 2005.

Also in 2005, Sargent and his research team made a breakthrough when they successfully converted infrared rays from the sun into electrical power.

“The KAUST award will enable critical breakthroughs to address today’s compromise between low cost and high performance solar energy, and will accelerate the cycle of innovation to transform the sun’s abundant rays into a practical, cost-effective source of energy to be enjoyed by the citizens of the world,” said Professor Cristina Amon, dean of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Sciences.

Professor Sargent will continue to work at U of T in addition to his collaborations at KAUST. He will be one of 12 scholars in the university’s founding group, and the only one from a Canadian university.

Professor Paul Young, VP research, nominated Sargent for the grant. “This is tremendously exciting for Ted,” he said. “He has made huge achievements at a relatively young age and this award will enable him to have even greater impact with his innovative work.”

Heavy duty rock research

As a research-oriented university, U of T has seen a lot of firsts. The brand new Rock Fracture Dynamics Laboratory, constructed to study how rocks break under stress, can now be added to that list.

This groundbreaking facility allows researchers to test rock samples under simulated force and temperature conditions (up to 200 degrees Celsius) found on Earth, while providing detailed images of the process. Part of the Lassonde Institute for Engineering Geoscience, it will provide researchers with a realtime account of what occurs inside the samples being tested. Researchers will be able to track fractures and cracks as they occur, leading to a greater understanding of this previously difficult to study phenomenon. Researchers can simulate conditions up to four kilometres deep in the Earth’s crust, using the carefully controlled environment in the facility.

“The facility enables us to perform geophysical imaging on samples of rocks, so we can now visualize what’s going on inside the rock as it is happening,” said professor Paul Young, Keck Chair of Seismology and Rock Mechanics and vice president of research at U of T, in an interview with the Bulletin.

The heart of this laboratory is electronic in nature: a beastly 256- processor computing cluster provides the necessary processing power for the immense amounts of data collected by sensing instruments. The cluster is capable of performing trillions of calculations per second—necessary, considering the constant stream of data gathered by the sensors as they “listen” to the samples crushed and fractured.

In the past, researchers would have to sift through a great deal of data in order to understand any given fracturing experiment. This could mean waiting months for a clear picture. With the new laboratory, U of T geologists can visualize the data gathered mere minutes after the fact.

Scientists will be able to measure a great variety of information regarding material fractures, including, most importantly, energy release. Young explained that the instruments are extremely sensitive, able to measure the equivalent force needed to break pencil lead.

Fractures become clearly visible when shifting tectonic plates form faults. The pressure upon rocks in many situations can reach incredible levels, causing solid pieces of stone to snap in half. Areas with heavily fractured rock can form aquifers, as the increased permeability allows fl uids to fl ow between the cracks.

Studying rocks under extreme stress allows for a better understanding a particularly stressful natural occurrence— earthquakes.

This heavy-duty processing power will help researchers compare mathematical models of rock behaviour to real-life experiments. Researchers can then refine their predictions to forecast the various processes involved in earthquakes, faults, and other geological situations.

Additionally, the data will be useful for the construction industry, as engineers seek to understand how and why materials fail in certain situations.

“We will be able to see how cement, as well as rock, reacts [to fractures], and measure that growth. This will help the construction industry understand better what happens with critical infrastructure,” said Young.

Why I love Geraldine Ferraro

“Oh, Geraldine…”

Geraldine Ferraro is a bit like your dotty old grandmother who occasionally makes references to the “coloureds” or the “negroes” in thinly veiled racist remarks— “I know he’s coloured, but gosh darn he can really sing!”

And so, we smile awkwardly, give Granny a kiss and move on with our lives, thanking the Prime Mover that we were born in a more enlightened time. Despite calls for her head on a platter for insisting that Barack Obama is only in the presidential running because he’s a black man, I still love Geraldine Ferraro.

It may seem odd to say that I have affection for a woman who was a U.S. Congresswoman and vice presidential candidate before I was born. But I look at Geraldine—a candidate who prefers to keep the bull to a minimum and speak her mind, consequences be damned— with admiration.

After teaching in New York City, Ferraro became a prosecutor in the Queen’s County Office, and was subsequently elected to the Unites States House of Representatives from 1979 to 1985. She ran on a pro-choice platform, in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, whom she told in no uncertain terms to shut up and let her run her campaign.

As Walter Mondale’s vice presidential candidate, she attacked then-vice president George H.W. Bush for criticizing Reagan’s “voodoo economics” in the 1980 primaries:

“I, too, recall when Vice President Bush was running in the primary against President Reagan and he called the program voodoo economics, and it was and it is” she said. Voodoo economics, distrust for Bush, and especially Reagan? Be still my heart.

When asked what she thought of Ms. Ferraro, Barbara Bush, that frigid WASP who made oysters tremble with her pearls, replied that she surely couldn’t comment, but that the word she had in mind rhymed with “rich.” Quite a statement coming from the woman who brought us Dubya, Jeb, and the original poster girl for Paula Abdul’s single “Cold Hearted Snake.” The only thing that could have made it better was an attack from Maggie Thatcher.

But the real reason I have sympathy for Geraldine lies in a much more deeprooted issue in the American psyche: race. Author and historian Studs Terkel called race “the great American obsession,” and so it remains today.

I want, desperately, to be able to look towards an America that’s ready for a black president. I want to look towards an America that doesn’t focus on identity politics, with campaigns that aren’t determined by the amount of money raised, but by the validity of the candidate’s stand on the issues that matter to Americans. In short, I long for a return to the once-admirable republic. Obviously this is not the present case.

When one factors in the media ruckus caused by Obama’s minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has declared much of America and its government to be racist against blacks, it becomes glaringly apparent how divided America remains, not over class, which may actually benefit the vast majority of Americans, but rather race. Rev. Wright uses rhetoric common to black ministers in the 1960s. He uses it because it is true.

What Rev. Wright and Ms. Ferraro expose is something that I have been saying quietly to my friends since the beginning of all of the campaigns: that America is not prepared to elect a black man as its president.

Mr. Obama has inspired a great deal of hope among Americans of all classes and races, a step in the recovery from the racial divide that still plagues America. But the fact remains that we are where we are, and where we are is none too pretty.

Geraldine’s comments may be unsavoury indeed, but they reflect more than just her views: she has put a mirror up to Americans and exposed a festering wound. Let’s lay off Geraldine and start working on ourselves.

New TB vaccine needs no needle

Vaccination for tuberculosis may become as easy as inhaling. A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University have developed the tuberculosis vaccine bacillus Calmette–Guérin into an easy-to-administer, highly portable aerosol.

“Rising rates of tuberculosis and drug-resistant disease in developing countries have amply illustrated the need for more effective vaccines,” says David Edwards, a biomedical engineering professor at Harvard University and a researcher involved with the inhalable vaccine’s design. “While most new TB vaccines continue to call for needle injection, our vaccine could provide safer, more consistent protection by eliminating these injections and the need for refrigerated storage. We see great promise for this new treatment.”

Appropriately, the team used guinea pigs, known to be susceptible to TB, were used to test the vaccine. Some of the guinea pigs were vaccinated with BCG while others were given the aerosol version. All of the guinea pigs were exposed to TB in an aerosol exchange chamber. Four weeks after exposure, the researchers analyzed the animal’s lungs and spleens. They found symptoms of TB in five per cent of the lungs and 10 per cent of the spleens of BCG-vaccinated guinea pigs. However, in the guinea pigs that received the aerosol, they found symptoms in just one per cent of spleen and lung tissue.

“Tuberculosis is one of the most resistant and challenging diseases to protect against, and the successful results of aerosol delivery using nanoparticle technology potentially offers a new platform for immunization,” says Barry R. Bloom, study contributor and dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Were the animal results confirmed in human studies, this technology could be used not only for TB vaccines, but those protecting against other infectious diseases as well.”

Currently, the BCG vaccine is freeze-dried, which requires refrigeration until it is used. The freezedried vaccine must be mixed with medical-grade water before it can be injected. This method makes immunization complicated in certain geographic areas, especially developing countries with limited or no access to electricity and medical supplies. Administering the aerosol vaccine to humans would be much easier than the present method. Using a drinking straw-shaped inhaler, adults would simply hold the tube to their mouth and breathe in. For infants, a pacifier-shaped inhaler is in development. According to study contributor Anthony Hickey, “You can have the baby essentially blow the powder into the back of the throat.”

The powder used in the inhaled vaccine is spray dried. Spray drying allows the researchers to take advantage of the dried vaccine bacteria’s tendency to form as elongated particles, highly effective when inhaled. This method avoids certain requirements associated with freeze drying, such as refrigeration and the need for water.

“Spray-drying is lower-cost than BCG, easily scalable for manufacturing, and ideal for needle-free use, such as via inhalation,” says Edwards. “Its greater stability at room temperature could ultimately provide a better means of creating and delivering vaccine throughout the world.”

Currently, bacillus Calmette– Guérin is used worldwide to immunize infants and adults against TB. It is estimated that over one billion people have received the vaccine since it was first used in 1921. BCG is most effective in preventing TB in children, and is the world’s most widely used childhood vaccine, as each year approximately 100 million babies are injected.

Israelis and Palestinians: put aside your differences

With a recent Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, renewed settlement activity in the West Bank, a daily barrage of rockets into Israeli towns on the Gaza border, and a shooting of eight Jewish students at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary, tensions in the world’s favourite conflict zone continue to escalate. The students passionately attached to the conflict wonder what we can do to create the greatest quality of life. One thing is clear: conciliation will come when both sides rant and roar for a common goal, rather than perpetuate absurd mischaracterizations.

“Apartheid” is a fallacious term, one that lacks any legitimacy when employed in a continued campaign to garner support for the Palestinian cause.

The word “apartheid” has been relegated to the list of unspeakable evils, approaching the ranks of Nazism and segregation. Employing “apartheid” to describe the Palestinian condition can serve to either reinforce the beliefs of the converted or act as a buzzword to attract public attention. Both of these are unethical and counter-productive.

If activists want Israel to change its ways, intentionally vilifying the state will no more appeal to the hearts of Israelis than suicide bombers and Qassam rocket attacks.

The simple fact is that the term attempts to de-legitimize any sort of separation in Israel or foundation for a majority Jewish state. This is something few educated in Jewish and European history will support, and for good reason.

Persecution affects every minority group on the globe, but the Jews are exceptional in one way. For nearly every ethnic group there exists a homeland— a place of refuge where tolerance will not shift with political stability. There are countless Christian and Muslim states; there are countries where Buddhists are the majority, where Hindus are, and so on.

The unfortunate pattern of Jewish existence has been relative prosperity followed by persecution. Life in North America is comfortable—but both Canada and the United States failed to take Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Since 9/11, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have been on the rise worldwide.

The state of Israel remains the only country in the world where any Jew can find sanctuary if the tides of tolerance once again turn against the Jewish people.

This is why a two-state solution is necessary.

It may be outside traditional moral convention, but sometimes political reality must take precedence over philosophical idealism. The Jewish people must have control of their own destiny.

There’s no doubt there have been many casualties in this struggle. While 1948 created many refugees, displacing Israelis to recompense displaced Palestinians is hardly just.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and there have been wrongs on both sides. This debate must effectively and efficiently uplift the status of the Palestinian people.

This does not single Israel out as the principle violator of human rights or oversimplify the situation by applying a loaded label.

Many of the points of contention— checkpoints, security issues, illegal settlements—exist because Palestinians lack statehood. Moreover, while the state of Israel bears the brunt of world criticism for the Palestinian condition, Arab neighbours, such as Jordan, are guilty of massacre and neglect.

Accusing Israel of apartheid will no more endear Jews than accusing Hamas of Islamofascism will endear Palestinians. Extremism on both sides must end. Moderates must reclaim the debate and, hopefully, one day bring about peace.

The new Yankees

The most controversial off-season in New York Yankees’ history is almost at a close, yet George Steinbrenner remains nowhere to be found. With his health failing, the famously combustible owner handed over the reins to his sons, Hank and Hal, who were immediately faced with a great deal of conflict in the family business. While at first it seems hard to believe

that the battle-tested owner is stepping aside, a change in ownership was just the first of a series of adjustments that the Yankees hope will restore them to glory.

After a devastating loss to the Cleveland Indians in last year’s ALDS, the Steinbrenners offered Yankees manager Joe Torre a contract extension with a pay cut—a deal that the four-time World Series winner said they knew he would refuse. To the surprise of many, Torre resurfaced two weeks later as the incoming manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, taking coaches Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa with him.

The team’s most fundamental change could come from newly hired manager Joe Girardi, whose short but successful managerial career makes him an ideal candi- date to light a fire under the team’s veterans and propel them to great success.

Yet despite the fresh perspective that Girardi hopes to offer, it must be noted that he is a longtime member of the Yankee family, having played for the team during their late ‘90s championship seasons, serving as Torre’s bench coach in 2005. The drama surrounding Torre’s departure proved to be the first wave of controversy, as the Mitchell Report on steroid use named 18 former Yankees and two current players, Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte, both of whom have admitted to their use of human growth hormone.

Even shortstop and media darling Derek Jeter landed in the headlines,with New York tax officials claiming he owed millions of dollars in state income taxes. The surprising charge was a blow to his normally squeaky-clean image, and Jeter quickly settled the case.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of this off-season was the lack of new player signings by the Yankees, fielding a nearly identical team to the one that imploded last October and sparked Torre’s dismissal. However, a closer look reveals that while the team didn’t bring in a new set of hired guns, they spent more recklessly than ever before to keep the team together. $113 million was spent to retain Pettitte, closer Mariano Rivera, and catcher Jorge Posada, who along with Jeter represent the team’s original core players—the last remnants of the ‘90s dynasty.

While this total may seem high for three players over the age of 35, it pales in comparison to the re-signing of third baseman and perennial whipping boy Alex Rodriguez.

Just as it appeared that Torre might lure the 2007 AL MVP to Los Angeles, A-Rod personally negotiated his own record-breaking $275 million contract (with $30 million in incentives), keeping him with the team for the next decade and giving him ten more chances to either win a title or be vilified every October.

The big question in the 2008 season concerns the impact that management will have on the team’s performance in their unrelenting quest for a World Series title. With last season’s lineup completely unchanged, the Yankees will depend on the development of their top three pitching prospects, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, contenders in the rotation alongside the beleaguered Pettitte and staff ace Chien-Ming Wang.

The three young pitchers who represent the Yankees’ only new blood will come under much scrutiny in New York, where a true youth movement is never an option. Ultimately, it can be said that times haven’t changed within the confines of the Evil Empire, what with two Steinbrenners in charge, a manager who lived through the glory days, and an all-too familiar lineup that hasn’t delivered a championship for nearly a decade.

Yet it stands to reason that a team steeped in such rich history would fail to embrace re-invention- For the New York Yankees, widescale change must be preceded by a truly catastrophic event, say, missing the playoffs or finishing behind the Blue Jays. That would be downright terrifying.

Twisted Spitzer

New York governor Eliot Spitzer gave his statement of resignation on Wednesday after his involvement in a prostitution ring was made public. His wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, stood solemnly next to her husband as he delivered this difficult speech.

“Over the course of my public life, I have insisted—I believe correctly—that people, re-gardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself.”

But Spitzer hardly made this decision because of an overpowering conscience. After the story of the scandal was released to the press, he lost respect from fellow politicians and the citizens of New York State. Facing impeachment and an overwhelming decrease in popularit, he had no other choice but to resign.

Reports reveal Spitzer spent $80,000 on prostitutes. fine use of the taxpayers’ money, right? However, Spitzer isn’t the first authority figure we’ve seen caught in a scandal.

In August 2007, Idaho Senator Larry Craig was arrested for lewd conduct in the men’s bathroom of a Minneapolis airport. Craig pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct and later refused to resign. He still holds his position but claims he will not run in the 2008 election.

Then there’s Bob Allen, a Florida Republican accused of offering to pay a male police officer for sexual favours, and Kevin Shelley, former California Secretary of State, charged with “sexually explicit gestures and remarks” towards his assistants while laundering campaign funds. And who can forget the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal? There are hundreds of other examples, because as long as there have been politicians, there has been political scandal.

It’s no secret that politicians are rewarded generous salaries and other “perks.” Blinded by his cash, Spitzer wasn’t considering the consequences when he spent the night with a prostitute last month.

In his failure to stay loyal to his wife, he has proven untrustworthy to the public as well. His daughters (aged 18, 14, and 12) must also be affected, as the call-girl he was caught with, Ashley Dupre, is 22 years old—only four years older than his first-born child. A politician who has no respect for his family cannot be expected to care for the welfare of his people.

In addition to the impact of the scandal on his family and the public, we must consider the prostitutes employed by infl uential and “respected” members of society. Some might recall that Spitzer’s latest callgirl was the only one left unmentioned in his public apology. Despite the misconception that high-class prostitution is a glamorous profession, prostitutes continue to be abused as “part of the job.” Their clients treat them as if they are mere objects being rented out.

Eliot Spitzer’s behaviour would not be considered tolerable from anyone, let alone an authority figure. The eradication of such immoral acts by those trusted with elected positions can happen only because we regret their mistakes—not simply because they are forced to face them.

Around the bases: 2008 MLB Preview

Toronto Blue Jays

With their strongest team in years, the Jays pitching staff have been dealt a major blow with the loss of Casey Janssen for the year, due to a torn right labrum. Janssen’s loss hurts even more because of his effectiveness against division rivals Boston and New York in 07. Even with the additions of David Eckstein and Scott Rolen from St. Louis and Vernon Wells’ shoulder all healed up, Toronto, like New York, will live and die this season with their pitching. Their hopes lie in Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan improving on solid ‘07 campaigns, and how well closer B.J. Ryan will perform, missing nearly all of last season due to a Tommy John surgery.

Boston Red Sox

Despite losing out on the Johan Santana sweepstakes, last year’s World Series Champs countered by adding 2005 Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon. Even if Colon doesn’t pan out and none of their top players go down due to injuries, the Red Sox will have all the ingredients to win their third championship in five years. 2007 Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia, adds more firepower to one of the league’s most gifted offenses. The Red Sox have a strong rotation, solid bullpen, and an overpowering closer that should make it tough for the Blue Jays or Yankees to dethrone them from the top spot in the American League East.

Cleveland Indians

They’ve had all winter to recover from the mental trauma of their self-destruction to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, taking a 3- 1 series lead. The reigning Central Division champs look to take a page out of the Red Sox book and exorcise their World Series demons by ending a 53-year drought. They return with the same team that put up a major league best 96 wins in 07, stronger this year thanks to last year’s valuable post-season experience. They will once again boast two potential Cy Young Award winners in Fausto Carmona and the 2007 winner, C.C. Sabathia. Key to their drive to the World Series will be whether designated hitter Travis Hafner bounces back from a disappointing ‘07 season and playoffs.

Detroit Tigers

In 07 they boasted one of the scariest batting orders in the majors. The Tigers led or were second in nearly all offensive categories in the American League. With the addition of slugger Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins, look for Detroit to put up some really crooked numbers this season. Last season’s downfall was their pitching, close to the bottom of the league in several important categories, including walks, runs, and earned-run-average. That’s where Dontrelle Willis, the other major player acquired in their trade with Florida, comes into play. Statistically, Willis had a terrible 07 season, putting up career worst numbers in wins, innings pitched, ERA, losses, walks, and home runs against. Still, Willis is only 26 and a change of scenery was just what he needed after enduring the penny-pinching Marlins ownership for years. Look for him to bounce back in a major way as Detroit becomes a series contender this year.