Local institutions do more to renew independence post-disaster

Effective disaster relief depends on cultural and social context on the ground

Local institutions do more to renew independence post-disaster

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda has killed more than 5,000 people and devastated the livelihoods of 13 million. An overwhelming majority of those affected are traumatized, hungry, thirsty, hurt, and homeless.

This is an appeal to aid, but perhaps not a conventional one. I wish to convince you to donate to local agencies that I believe have more expertise, empathy, and long-term outlook to provide a more resilient post-disaster Philippines.


Relief is complicated. It carries political and methodological baggage. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be fighting on the field as to what, how, and to whom aid should be distributed. Cash or food? Women or men? Shelter or medicine? With limited resources come hard decisions. “The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies” said Tacloban’s mayor, bleakly. There is no doubt that there is a need for resources and thus I will not discredit the efforts of larger agencies — such as the World Food Program, the UN Refugee Agency, Oxfam and Red Cross/Crescent that are well-intentioned. But with relief, intentions are never enough.

Relief is contextual. Money rarely translates into what the donor intended, more importantly, beneficiaries are rarely provided with the aid they need. The social context into which foreign aid is introduced will determine how that aid is distributed. I witnessed this first-hand when I studied a post-cyclone relief effort in India. Cultural nature, political rivalries, ethno-religious divisions, and economic stratifications are essential to understanding how to propagate a relief effort. I am not Christian, but I would not think twice about donating to a smaller, Christian organization if they are effectively getting aid through to those in need. Aid comes first, not ideology.

International aid is rarely as effective as locally tailored aid. Local knowledge is essential to effectively providing aid. It can be as simple as knowing another route in case of traffic, or completely understanding what people’s priorities are and how to deal with the various demographics. That is why I recommend donating to Filipino or regional agencies that have a robust local network. The Philippine Red Cross stands out, as do Citizens’ Disaster Response Centre, the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management, and Community and Family Service International. You can also donate directly to the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development — which, though facing criticism, is still one of the most effective agencies in the field.

Relief is human. Affected people always have pride, and if provided with the correct tools, they develop some agency. This is far from the conventional image of helpless, dejected, and submissive victims. Even with their houses destroyed, these people rarely submit to begging, or discarded old T-shirts. Local agencies are usually more aware of this. Because they are inherently invested in the society around them, they do more to provide agency to the affected people.

Relief is never over. This current and essential relief effort will die down. International agencies will pack up and leave when critical needs have been met; the initial crisis will have been averted, but the essential job of rebuilding livelihoods remains.

Post-disaster reconstruction efforts are achingly slow due to lack of funding, and international agencies rarely deal directly with these efforts, as there are no glamorous media-bites.

However, disasters due to climate change will only increase in frequency — we need to design our cities to be resilient, but also socially and environmentally appropriate, which can only done by locally aware agencies. Donate localy, not only will these charities provide better and faster aid but they will also be there to do the serious rebuilding that comes after the big organizations leave.


Ankit Bhardwaj is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto

Undergraduate research opportunities take learning beyond classroom

Research opportunities abound for U of T’s undergraduates

Undergraduate research opportunities take learning beyond classroom

As a science student, it can be easy to forget where all of the theories and equations encountered in class come from. The long days of trial-and-error, of running experiments, and of chance discoveries can be hidden by the passage of lecture slides. Going behind the curtain and participating in the actual research process can be extremely rewarding for an undergraduate student; thankfully, a research-intensive university provides many opportunities to do so.



Participating in an undergraduate research project is an early opportunity to be exposed to the inner workings of your chosen field. An “early opportunity where an undergrad can be exposed to research in the lab, outside the classroom, would be a good experience to understand more what [the field] is,” said Armando Marquez, undergraduate counsellor of the Department of Chemistry, “and possibly develop that interest so that … students would continue and do research, go to graduate studies, do a lot more research down the line.”

It can be hard to know if a research career is right for you unless you try it, and the wide range of opportunities at the University of Toronto make undergraduate years the perfect time to give it a whirl.

The experience can certainly boost a resume. “When students get involved with this, it gives them a better opportunity as an experience, that when they go out, when they finish their education here, it makes them a very competitive person when they do apply to graduate studies or work,” said Marquez.

Research InfoYet even if you decide to apply to work in industry, professional school, or change fields entirely, a summer or semester spent doing research provides benefits that will stay with you for years to come.

Some of these wide-ranging benefits are detailed in a document by the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology (LMP) department, and include gaining important lab skills, learning how to design an experiment, critically analyzing data, and communicating results. Students gain a deeper understanding of course material and will also have a wide-range of work opportunities after graduation. These important skills can also be taken back to the classroom.

Not only can research enhance scientific knowledge, it can also contribute to one’s personal development. “One of the opportunities for the students who get involved in research is that they are able to network with the grad students [and] with the faculty, and are given the opportunity to do presentations,” said Marquez, adding that, “students who go through this develop a more critical way of thinking instead of just what is fed to you in the classroom.”

Ishita Aggarwal, campus ambassador for the pan-discipline Undergraduate Awards program, pointed out that doing research can affect your world view. “When you participate in research, even at the undergraduate level, you really are able to better interpret claims that are made, not only in the academic setting, but also in popular media and everyday life,” she said. “I think it’s really important not only to be a producer of research, but also to be a better consumer of research.”

U of T offers a wide variety of opportunities for undergraduates to do research, including the second-year Research Opportunity Program (ROP) courses and summer research positions aimed at second- and third-year students. Each department awards positions differently:some require an application to the department as a first step, whiles others require the interested student to email potential supervisors before applying.

In the Department of Chemistry, students submit a résumé, cover letter, and application to the department before the supervisor selection process. “The competition is so fierce that we could probably have between 150 to 200 applications for an average of 25 positions,” said Marquez, who then insisted that he encourages all students to apply, as even the application process is beneficial to them. By applying, he says, students learn how to present themselves professionally on paper, an important post-graduation skill.

If one application is not successful, students should remain positive and keep looking, even if that means investigating opportunities outside of U of T ­— Toronto’s hospital system is a great place to start, for example.

According to Aggarwal, persistence is key: “One of the things that really prevents undergrads from getting involved in research is that they don’t know how and they’re just too scared … the key is not to get discouraged … if you keep attempting to contact the people whose research you’re genuinely interested in, eventually you’ll hear an affirmative answer. But you need to keep trying.”

Lack of interest in science is hurting the economy

Reduced enrolment in STEM subjects restricts career choices for Canadian youth, women remain underrepresented

Lack of interest in science is hurting the economy

How much does it cost the country when high school students drop out of math and science courses? Too much, says a recent “Spotlight on Science Learning” report by Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization committed to fostering engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in children and youth.



In Ontario, as in most provinces, math and science courses are optional after Grade 10. As a result, fewer than half of Canadian high school grads actually complete senior-level STEM courses, despite the fact that 70 per cent of top jobs and well over 50 per cent of university and college programs require at least some stem background.

The result? Huge costs, both for students — who may have to go back to school to make up prerequisites or miss out on potential job options and future earnings ­— and for Canada’s economy, since a decreased interest in these fields leads to a smaller talent pool and the loss of potentially key workers and innovators. Ontario alone “loses $24 billion in economic activity annually because employers can’t find people with the skills they need to innovate and grow,” according to the Let’s Talk Science report.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that students are often unaware of how many doors they close when they drop out of math and science. If students are not fully aware of the benefits of pursuing STEM courses throughout high school, taking them can seem like a waste of time and effort. Yet many university and college programs, even those in fields like culinary arts, technical theatre, or fitness ­— at first glance fields unrelated to STEM ­fields — require Grade 12 math and science courses as prerequisites to admission.

Science GraphsIn a 2012 report, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) also emphasized the importance of early math and science education in the development of Canada’s future researchers: “Young Canadians lack sufficient knowledge about educational requirements for future careers, as well as a clear understanding of what PCEM [physical sciences, computer science, engineering, mathematics] careers entail… Evidence indicates that there is a disconnection between the educational choices some students make at the secondary level and their post-secondary or career goals.”

Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, president of Let’s Talk Science, stresses in the report the importance of science literacy in any of a student’s potential careers, and emphasizes that if educators are to engage children and youth in STEM fields, that engagement needs to start early: “We need to inform our youth of the importance of STEM courses for their future careers, engage them in experiential science learning from an early age, and sustain their interest in science throughout their studies.”

Another contributing difficulty highlighted in the Let’s Talk Science report is the need to engage all segments of Canadian society, including groups that have been traditionally under-represented, such as women and Aboriginals. According to Statistics Canada, women currently account for 53.7 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 with a university degree. However, women represent less than one third (32.6 per cent) of Canadians with a university degree in STEM subjects.

The CCA also noted that women’s representation, not only at the undergraduate and graduate level, but also in research careers and academic positions, varies significantly by discipline. Although women are comparatively well-represented in the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences, they account for only 24 per cent of students enrolled in university programs in computer science, engineering, or mathematics or the physical sciences, and only 14.8 per cent of faculty members in these disciplines.

There is a clear need for more outreach and education, and U of T has recognized this need for some time. A number of programs on campus actively work to combat this lack of interest by getting elementary and high school students involved in exciting, hands-on projects. For instance, U of T works with Let’s Talk Science to mobilize undergraduate, graduate, and faculty volunteers, who run science activities for children and youth at both the St. George and Scarborough campuses.

The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering has a range of programs in place, like the the Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP). The DEEP Saturday workshops are classes “designed to introduce students in grades nine to 12 to graduate-level research in science and engineering.” Engineering Outreach also runs Jr. DEEP, aimed at students in grades five to eight, as well as March Break and summer programs. Sample activities include making slime, building model cars, rockets, and roller coasters, or creating musical instruments.

U of T is also leading efforts to address the gender gap. The Jr. DEEP program offers sessions for girls in grades three to eight. On October 19, U of T participated in Go ENG Girl, a province-wide program that invites girls to visit a local university and learn about opportunities for them in engineering from current female engineering students and graduates. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) at U of T is a co-ed student organization that sends volunteers to high schools across the GTA to encourage and inspire students to pursue science and engineering at the postsecondary level.

A great deal of work is being done to address the lack of interest and lack of knowledge about stem subjects that both the CCA and Let’s Talk Science have identified. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that Canada’s potential for innovative excellence in these fields depends on students’ talent ­—and if they aren’t interested, everyone loses.

A Place Like This

VICTORIA BANDEROB looks into the differences between urban and rural universities in Canada

A Place Like This
Click the X to peruse students’ instagram photos from urban and rural universities in Canada.

Located in the midst of a thriving urban centre, the University of Toronto, although an active player in the city at times, is often an accessory in the comings and goings of local and commuting Torontonians and the quick snapshots of tourists’ cameras. Students of the university view themselves not only as students, but also as residents of the City of Toronto, an active force in and around the institution.

The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Ottawa are all universities in big cities. The urban environment that these universities inhabit has many other top employers and businesses that keep the city running and other aspects, such as vibrant cultural life, attract residents to live there. The university happens to be in the middle of it all.

In a small university town, the picture is quite different. The city that that the university resides in is relatively small — sometimes so small that one of the top employers in the city may be the university, as in the case of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where it is second only to the Canadian Forces Base, employing just under 10 per cent of Kingston’s workforce. The University of Guelph is Guelph’s second highest employer in contrast to the University of Toronto which, despite occupying one of the top spots of employers in the city, is among 13 other companies that employ similar numbers of people. Similarly, the majority of residents in a university town might be students, as in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, home of St. Francis Xavier University, a town with a population of 4,524 and a student population of 5,185 (2011).

When students are choosing whether to go to a university in an urban or rural environment, these technical factors are often not their central concerns. Academic programs offered and the reputation of the school’s social life are critical considerations for incoming students, and these are often tied to the school’s location in a city or a town. Homecoming at U of T and at Queen’s have entirely different reputations; while Kingston does not offer the same cultural vibrancy that Toronto does.


Hands-on learning

While all universities typically offer a normative selection of academic programs, their settings impact the unique interdisciplinary studies they can offer.

The University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and Concordia University in Montreal, are all located in the heart of busy cities, and all also host Urban Studies programs. These universities are accordingly surrounded by a living, breathing Urban Studies classroom — the city itself.

Being immersed in a city while learning about urban environments has its obvious advantages. David Roberts, a professor in Innis College’s Urban Studies program, points out: “Starting in the first year with our Innis One class, we have our students getting out in the community and actually involving themselves in seeing the processes that make the city run.”

The various organizations located in cities create increased opportunities for service learning and experiential learning that U of T, and numerous other universities, offers its students. Service learning is described as course-based learning, allowing students to participate in an organized service activity that engages the community, where further reflection allows greater understanding of the content. Many service learning courses can be found at U of T. The Dementia course (HMB440) explores aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2009, the students raised $1,000 by participating in the Alzheimer’s Society Walk for Memories. Not only does service learning help in strengthening understanding of a subject in the present, but it also can help provide knowledge of future opportunities in that field.

In contrast to urban universities, the University of Guelph, an example of a university located in a university-town, specializes in Agriculture — with a faculty of Plant Agriculture and programs such as Organic Agriculture and Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics. Guelph is a rural area that allows programs such as these to flourish, as they are enhanced by an on-campus farm, the Guelph Urban Organic Farm, as well as greenhouses and open land so the students have an opportunity for off-campus research experience akin to U of T’s service learning.

Colbey Templeman, MSc student in Plant Agriculture at Guelph, comments: “Pursuing an education at the University of Guelph has allowed me convenient access to numerous field locations and research facilities. My graduate research requires me to travel to multiple field locations to collect data. Fortunately, Guelph is ideally situated for such a requirement, and I can be out of the city within as little as five minutes. This would be far more difficult in larger cities.”

Although the topics of research may vary between universities in large cities and those in small towns, the quality of research is not necessarily enhanced by being located in a big city. Emily Greenleaf, researcher of teaching and learning in the dean’s office and lecturer for “The University in Canada,” a University College course, suggests: “Especially among academics, their main community is other academics all around the world in their field. So although a university may be in a small town, the academic life of a university is often really cosmopolitan and globally connected… I think the ideas coming into the university, especially on the academic side of things, are really very cosmopolitan no matter where the university is located. Especially when we’re talking about universities with a research mandate and universities where faculty are very involved in the forefront of their field.”


City versus school

Conflict can arise between the institution and the city which hosts it. This divide may be more prominent in a small town than in a big city.

In a university town, transient students are moving in and out of residential areas where families are raising children and elderly residents have lived for their whole lives. Disruptions, such as the Queen’s University riots in 2009, can easily cause a community to resent the students and the university that they attend. The Queen’s Town-Gown relations Department was formed in 2011 as a result of the riots and aims to bring students and their community together.

Respecting and accommodating all the residents is a very important aspect of sharing a small community. The City of Waterloo has received an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant to support an initiative that will change a student neighbourhood’s reputation, which has been burdened with negative stigma attached to large parties and poorly maintained properties.

While there are challenges, cities and towns can combine forces for mutual benefit. A university town experiences benefits from the university including — the building and expansion of infrastructure to support the student population, such as restaurants, small neighbourhood stores, and even larger grocery stores. Urban centers and university towns alike benefit directly from some of the facilities within the universities themselves.

The University of Waterloo’s Earth Sciences Museum is largely used as an earth-science teaching museum for local schools and natural-science interest groups in southern Ontario. The university at the heart of a university town will also sometimes represent the interest of the community it is hosted by. In 2004, for example, the University of Guelph launched the Ontario Farmland Trust, an organization whose focus was to preserve Ontario’s lands for farming.

With the infrastructure and graduates produced from the University of Toronto, small businesses with big ideas are able to leverage public and private partnerships to hire, innovate, and create growth opportunities with the funding from larger institutions and governments. For example, the MaRS Discovery District allows entrepreneurs in the medical, science, and social fields to build their small ideas into global businesses. Opportunities like this create jobs for students, research for faculty, and tactile objects to teach about at the university; in turn, the company gains people and money for its projects.


Student life

School spirit, involvement in clubs, and social gatherings are all aspects of student life outside of the classroom. Enthusiasm for these activities differs greatly between students of a college-town and a large city.

Becky Eckler, a graduate of Queen’s University, suggests: “Students who choose to go to school in a big city are often picking that school for the city — not for the school. However, students who pick a school in a small town are picking the school for the school. You see a lot more school spirit because they are a lot more enthused about the institution.”

At small town universities, homecoming is the event of the year — school colours are painted on faces, and throughout the rest of the year these colours continue to paint the landscape. Noteworthy homecoming events include those at Western and Queen’s, which have been the subject of controversy due to the disruptiveness of the celebrations in their respective host towns.

While university-town institutions far exceed urban universities in terms of school identity, personal identity may form to a greater extent when one lives in a city, free of the confinements of a town.

Roberts notes: “The community aspect of student life is a lot more spread out [in the city]… you can find your niche outside of the university,” which can help you find new interests and past-times, or just separate your mind from campus and university life. Museums, concert venues, restaurants, and community activities are abundant in a city, but still exist in small towns due to the fact that a university is there. The large demographic of young people attracts businesses to a small town that may not have chosen to set up shop in a small town without a university.

Greenleaf adds: “[A university] is obviously a great creative force — it brings in young people, but it also attracts artists and all kinds of entrepreneurial things that cater to students and faculty. And so, the food in a small university town will be a lot better than the food in a town of comparable size without a university. And the music, and the movies that get shown, and all of that — it creates an audience for the kind of cultural activities that we often associate with a bigger city.”

When choosing your university, it’s not uncommon to hear the advice that whatever university you choose will be the best one for you — you just have to take advantage of what it has to offer and make it the best one for you. Emily Greenleaf notes on the choice of an urban institution like U of T: “[A] real trait of urban universities, [is] that they can attract people who have a choice to be anywhere; but they want to be in a place like this.”

Illustration: Wendy Gu

Carbon 14: Climate is Culture

ROM exhibit presents a new way of engaging with climate change

Carbon 14: Climate is Culture

The newest exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (rom), Carbon 14: Climate is Culture aims to provide a new platform for the discussion and thoughts on climate change. Curated by David Buckland and Claire Sykes, the exhibit is a result of a partnership between the rom Contemporary Culture collections team and the Cape Farewell Foundation, which was founded by Buckland.

Cape Farewell’s objective is global teamwork — bringing together artists and scientists in order to gain insight into the effects of climate change. The foundation’s goal is unique:  seeking to find artistic expressions for scientific phenomena, and educating in a way that is emotionally engaging.

climateisculture3-LauraWittmannThe exhibit encourages visitors to decide for themselves what its environmental, social, and cultural implications are. This is an all-encompassing look at climate change, from the practical and factual to the theoretical and ethical. Carbon 14 functions as an art installation, which, as Buckland describes, can inform through inspiration and emotional engagement. It is all about “reframing the message” of climate change.

Carbon 14 consists of 13 separate installments and is the result of two years of work, involving the cooperation of professionals ranging from filmmakers to economists. A variety of global perspectives were compiled to create the exhibit, but the voices of Inuit people and communities are especially important in the Canadian perspective on climate change, and in general because they are direct witnesses to the effects of global warming. As Buckland says, this is very much a “First Nations dialogue.”

A variety of media materials and tools are used within the exhibit, ranging from a soapstone and walrus bone sculpture to videos, photographs, mannequins, an iPad presentation, harvested tweets, and more. Carbon 14 intertwines themes of modern technology, religion, economy, global relations, community and tradition.


A unique feature of the gallery is the commentary that goes on beside each piece. As usual in galleries and museums, each installation is paired with a descriptive plaque, but what is different about those of Carbon 14 is that they also feature a blurb about the piece from another artist involved in the project. Even the most basic and neutral of fixtures is used to promote discussion and highlight the importance of different opinions.

As Sykes says, the ultimate measure of people’s reactions to the exhibit is “goosebumps.” While Carbon 14’s overall investigation is of a physical and scientific phenomenon, its results are meant to capture thoughts and feelings, presenting a multifaceted view of climate change and limitless openings for thought and discussion. The exhibit will be at the rom until February 2, 2014, and is an absolute must-see for science and art enthusiasts alike.

Ripley’s Aquarium brings the ocean downtown

New Toronto attraction features 5.7 million litres of water, over 15,000 marine creatures

Ripley’s Aquarium brings the ocean downtown

Last week, Ripley’s Aquarium opened in the heart of downtown Toronto. Since its grand opening, the aquarium has overflowed with excited visitors ready to explore the great depths. Visitors to the aquarium will be delightfully surprised by the various species and enormous tanks full of marine life.

The building is quite a statement; the architecture is well-thought out and creatively designed. The flight of stairs leading up to the aquarium also has large screens with promotional videos. The 12,500 square-metre structure boasts several exhibits — including Canadian Waters, Rainbow Reef, and Planet Jellies.



The touch tanks, located near the entrance, allow visitors to interact with many animals such as the Atlantic stingrays and whitespotted bamboo sharks. In the Ray Bay, divers enter the tank and feed the stingrays during frequent live shows. The stingrays have their barbs
removed — a harmless procedure, for their own safety and that of the divers. The divers are willing to speak to the public after their shows; one diver discussed her studies in Marine Biology and her seven years diving in countries as far away as Thailand.

The largest and most impressive exhibit, at nearly 2.5 million litres, is the Dangerous Lagoon. It features a moving sidewalk that metaphorically journeys through the ocean.The exhibit contains green sea turtles, sand tiger sharks, and more. The shark exhibit is very informative about both the beauty of the creatures and the scientific efforts that ensure that they  thrive. The aquarium has a total of 5.7 million litres of water, in which over 15,000 marine animals live.

There are separate sections that cater to different interests. For those interested in sustainability, the aquarium has several areas dedicated to conservation and takes significant effort to maintain a sustainable environment. The Discovery Centre is great for budding marine biologists and offers interactive games like the horseshoe crab touching pool. The aquarium offers educational programming, and there are plans to expand its research initiatives and day camps. Ever dreamt of sleeping among sharks? There is a sleepover program that allows visitors to sleep in the Dangerous Lagoon after a day full of activities. The aquarium also hosts birthday parties and events, but is already booked up until January.



The price of a visit to the aquarium is slightly higher than the Toronto Zoo, at $33.88 a ticket, but the experience is truly worth it. If you are looking to get a behind-the-scenes-tour of the animal husbandry areas, you’ll have to pay an additional fee. Looking to save a couple bucks? Round up a group of 15 friends  and qualify for a group rate. On a mid-week evening, the aquarium was surprisingly crowded.  It is truly a breath of fresh air ­­— or perhaps a cool drink of  water ­— from the bustle of city life. The soft music, relaxed atmosphere, and beauty of life on display are calming  — imparting a  state of tranquility. Visiting the aquarium is recommended to those interested in the field of marine biology and students who are simply seeking a breather between midterms and assignments.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson awarded Dunlap Prize

“Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” to visit U of T in March 2014

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson awarded Dunlap Prize

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson has won the first Dunlap Prize from the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. According to the institute, the prize recognizes those who embody “the institute’s vision for sharing scientific discovery with the public, training the next generation of astronomers, and developing innovative astronomical instrumentation to enable breakthroughs in observational research.” Tyson’s impressive career and academic achievements easily distinguish him as a renowned astrophysicist, but these factors alone did not earn him the Dunlap prize, nor did his reputation as the “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive.” The award also recognizes his role in scientific outreach and education.



Tyson is the current director of the Hayden Planetarium in the America Museum of Natural History, located in New York. As an astrophysicist,  Tyson has followed an exceptional academic path: he earned his BA in physics at Harvard and a PhD in astrophysics at Columbia. He also completed his post-doctoral research at Princeton. He was twice recruited by former President George W. Bush to serve on White House commissions, and was part of the NASA advisory council from 2005 – 2008.

Born in the same week that NASA became operational, Tyson became fascinated with astrophysics on his very first visit to the Hayden Planetarium at the age of nine. “The universe called me,” he said during a conversation with Stephen Colbert. Now, as director, he has been tirelessly pushing public education of science and inspiring the young generation to explore space.

Dr. Tyson has authored multiple books, including Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, an anthology of his most popular essays in Natural History magazine, and The Pluto Files: The Rise And Fall of America’s Favourite Planet — an analysis of Pluto’s cultural impact as well as a collection of public responses to Pluto’s demotion. The latter is especially fitting, as Tyson took part in the decision to “downgrade” Pluto. In his most recent book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Tyson not only provides a well-documented list of NASA’s contributions to our society and daily life, but also calls for greater recognition and expansion of the space program.

Tyson’s efforts in educating and inspiring the public can also be reflected in his radio show, StarTalk. The weekly show explores a wide variety of topics, scientific and non-scientific alike, and analyzes them from a scientific perspective. Past topics include dark matter, time travel, zombie apocalypses and hip-hop. Tyson’s humour, together with the expertise of guest co-hosts, keeps the show entertaining and lighthearted, yet informative and scientifically accurate. He has also collaborated with many well-known names ­— like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Nye  ­— to discuss science topics and encourage students to keep pursuing their dreams in science.

His witty and sometimes sarcastic style has gathered him a dedicated audience not only in universities but also online; his twitter account, followed by nearly 1.5 million people, is composed of fun facts, interesting thought experiments, scientific reviews of sci-fi movies, and other humorous quirky comments. In 2014, he will also be the host of Cosmos, a continuation of the legendary science show first popularized by Carl Sagan.

Tyson’s immense popularity has earned him 18 honorary doctorates, a NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal and an asteroid named in his honour (Asteroid “13123 Tyson”). On March 21, 2014, Tyson will visit at U of T for the Dunlap Prize ceremony and give a free public lecture in Convocation Hall. Registration for this event will be available later this winter.


With Files from the Dunlap Institute, Hayden Planetarium, and Colbert interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy.

Elizabeth May seeks to reform democracy

Green Party leader discusses education, democratic renewal, and marijuana

Elizabeth May seeks to reform democracy

Green Party leader Elizabeth May describes her vision for post-secondary education: greater financial support for universities via federal government transfers to provinces. “We need to ensure that we put an end to interest-bearing student loans, and we’ll expand bursaries and scholarships for young people,” May stated.



Speaking as a guest lecturer in an ENV100 class, May emphasized the importance of youth involvement: “We need one thing more than anything else, and it’s you. We need informed and engaged citizens who won’t shut up about the fact that a handful of economic bullies have decided their short-term profits are worth more than our collective future.”

When asked how the Green Party would combat youth apathy, May responded “I don’t think that youth are more apathetic than any other group in society.” While it is true that young people are among the least likely to vote, May attributes this to a disillusionment with the voting system and the “false conclusion” that “the entire system is rigged and there’s not much point in voting at all.”

“If you’re feeling disengaged and disillusioned, and angry at politicians, the most important thing to do is to vote… I think what you have to do is take the time to learn about the issues, be active in our democracy, and take the time to vote. So that’s a message to everyone, not just a message to young people,” May said.

In October, May held a town hall on democratic renewal as part of her “Save Democracy From Politics” nationwide tour. The tour was designed to give May a platform to discuss the issues of electoral reform, and what she calls “our democratic deficit.” May is an outspoken proponent of proportional representation, and wishes that political parties had never been established.

“We could have a better, healthier democracy in this country if [we could] eliminate all the political parties in this country and let Canadians vote for the MP they think most represents their interests,” May said. The Green Party includes implementation of proportional representation as part of its platform. Kelly Carmichael, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, one of the organizations behind the tour, said that the First Past the Post (FPTP) system that Canada currently has does not truly reflect the votes of the electorate. Carmichael used the results of the 2011 federal election to illustrate her point: “39 per cent of the voters that showed up gave one party 54 per cent of the seats, and 100 per cent of the power. Over 700 million votes didn’t elect anybody. This winner-takes-all, antiquated, FPTP system creates division among voters.”

The Green Party was the first federal political party to call for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. “It’s very clear that prohibition does not work, and it takes scarce law enforcement resources and puts them in the wrong place, criminalizing people whose activities shouldn’t be criminalized,” stated May.

Two of the Green Party’s long-term national goals are to eliminate student debt entirely, and to increase accessibility to post-secondary education. Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario (GPO), said “one shouldn’t detract from the other,” and hopes to achieve both through a multi-year tuition fee freeze.

To ensure that the lost revenue does not detract from university budgets, Schreiner promised: “We’d reverse the corporate tax cuts introduced by the Liberal Party… Having skilled young people entering the workforce is a huge benefit to businesses of all sizes, so it seems right that they should help pay for something that helps them.” Ontario is the province with the highest tuition fees, but the lowest public investment.

In addition to the tuition fee freeze, Schreiner would like to introduce grants that are more needs-based, instead of the current tax credit system.

Schreiner pointed out that Ontario is the province with the highest tuition fees, but with the lowest per capita spending on education. He believes that the province’s lack of commitment to education results from the mistaken view that youth are not politically engaged. “The more engaged young people are in politics, the more the policies would benefit them,” he said.

May does not believe that there is sufficient evidence that cannabis is any more of a health threat than cigarettes or alcohol, and supports findings that marijuana is beneficial when used for medical purposes, specifically as an aid for chronic pain, and other illnesses.