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Goodbye diarrhea, hello nutritious instant noodles

U of T researchers receive $200,000 to tackle global health issues

Goodbye diarrhea, hello nutritious instant noodles

Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) has awarded two global health projects based at U of T with $200,000 to tackle problems such as food contamination and nutritional deficiency in developing countries.

GCC, supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, announced $2 million of funding for the first 20 recipients of the Stars in Global Health funding program. They awarded seed grants of $100,000 for researchers to develop innovative ideas to improve living conditions of vulnerable women and children across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Testing for foodborne bacteria in Egypt

Dr. Benjamin Hatton, a researcher in U of T’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is developing a fast, low cost, and easy-to-use test to identify bacteria in food. Bacterial food contamination can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, and even death, especially in pregnant women and infants who are more susceptible to bacterial infections due their weaker immune systems.

“Even though diarrhea is a nuisance in this part of the world, it can be a significant health hazard,” explained Hatton. According to him, it is associated with child mortality rates as high as 10–15 per cent in poorer parts of the world.

Hatton is working with researchers Dr. Tarek Awad and Dr. Dalal Asker at Alexandria University in Egypt, where they will test their innovation. He describes his innovation as a “litmus test” that will allow mothers to check whether food is contaminated before they feed their child.

The team hopes to take advantage of the high cell phone usage in the area to visualize bacteria with its camera and track cases of diarrhea. They also plan to test local disinfection products in Egyptian communities and engage in community outreach to teach locals about food testing and cleaning methods.

“If we are successful with this [project] in Egypt, we would be looking to try it in other countries in North Africa and other parts of the world,” Hatton added.

Supplementing instant noodles with spirulina in the Philippines

Dr. David McMillen is working to supplement instant noodles with nutritious algae. Photo courtesy of GRAND CHALLENGES CANADA

The second awardee is a project led by Dr. David McMillen, a researcher in Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences at UTM, who developed his idea at U of T’s Impact Centre.

According to GCC, around 50 per cent of Filipinos do not have adequate protein in their diet, and about 35 per cent of children under the age of five are anemic, which is caused by iron deficiency. McMillen’s project proposes using Spirulina, a nutritious algae and rich source of essential amino acids, iron, and vitamins A, B12 and K, to combat nutrient deficiencies in the Philippines.

McMillen plans to supplement instant ramen noodles, a local staple commonly consumed by children, with a Spirulina “flavour pack.”

“[Instant ramen noodles] are cheap because there’s almost nothing in them — they’re plain noodles and salt with some fat but very low on any form of protein or iron,” explained McMillen.

The funding provided by GCC will help McMillen’s team develop methods to produce Spirulina locally in Napsan, a village in Palawan, Philippines. They will work to determine the optimal conditions for growth, harvesting, and distribution. With enough production, Spirulina can be exported to larger markets and create jobs for local mothers. In the long term, McMillen hopes to establish locally grown Spirulina in other villages with nutritional deficiencies.

Grand Challenges Canada Awards

Liam Brown, a spokesperson for GCC, describes the awarded projects as early stage ideas that are critical in driving innovation and addressing challenges faced by women and children around the world. The funding is awarded to researchers in Canada and low-to-middle income countries where the work is done.

Once these projects have been developed over the next year and have a scalable solution, they will be invited to submit their project to GCC’s Transition to Scale program to implement their ideas at a larger scale.

In addition to the Stars in Global Health and the Transition to Scale programs, GCC also funds innovations through other programs, with focuses ranging from mental health to early childhood development, that target the poorest and most vulnerable women and children.

In total, GCC has funded 800 innovations in over 80 countries that they estimate will save up to one million lives by 2030.

Why is Toronto’s hip-hop scene stagnating?

A push to move away from melodic and slightly more aggressive melodic singing

Why is Toronto’s hip-hop scene stagnating?

With Drake and The Weeknd dominating the charts, Tory Lanez carving out significant space for himself in the industry, and B-listers like Jazz Cartier, Roy Woods, and Killy rising on YouTube and SoundCloud, it’s easy to get carried away with pride for the music coming out of Toronto. But if our city is ever to be side by side with the likes of New York, Atlanta, LA, and Chicago as a cultural centre of hip hop, it’s going to need to diversify.

At least in the beginning of a city’s musical evolution, it’s crucial to have a sound. For New York, this was boom bap in the ’70s, buoyed by artists like KRS-One, who coined the term, and driven further into the ’90s by prolific figures like Nas. For Los Angeles, it was G-funk in the ’90s, guided by Dr. Dre’s greasy bass lines and funk-inspired synths, combined with Snoop Dogg’s effortless and relaxed delivery. Toronto is in an evolutionary period itself, but it’s starting to get boring.

Drake’s sing-rap style, along with Noah “40” Shebib’s atmospheric production on songs like “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “One Dance,” redirected hip-hop to ballad romances, dancehall, and more introspective themes. This was a needed change. With the rise of The Weeknd following in Drake’s footsteps of emotional introspection, Toronto has added drug-addled sex and depression to the list of topics that artists are exploring in hip-hop and R&B.

The hardships of romance, the human ego, and the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol that artists seem to be aware of but rarely make efforts to change are almost the entirety of Toronto artists’ subject matter. This is hardly unique in hip-hop. Toronto, however, delivers these themes in a melancholy drone, usually framed around suspicion of peers and an ever-creeping sadness.

If we were to characterize Toronto’s production, it would be by a diehard love of minor keys, ambient synths, and heavy reverb on vocals. The emphasis is on the words; the instrumentals take a backseat. Shebib personally likes to muffle drums for segments at the beginning of verses, a great indicator in any track that Drake is about to talk about his ‘tings.’

Piano is common in Toronto production, but it’s often so far in the background or so layered with effects that it hardly resembles the original instrument. We borrow our sharp trappy snares and rattling hi-hats from Atlanta; sometimes R&B artists will trade these for dancehall-style beats.

This is a style unique to us, one with a lot of artistic merit and definitely worth pursuing. But like all great bearers of music culture, Toronto must evolve to maintain its relevance.

Roy Woods is essentially a lyrically deficient version of The Weeknd, and the even lesser-known anders a rehash of Woods. Tory Lanez has a particularly interesting soft-to-aggressive vocal range that he uses to great effect on “Fallback” and “B.L.O.W.,” but listen to the instrumentals on either of these and you’ll hear the same drowned piano and trap influence.

Cartier and Killy deserve some credit for their willingness to experiment, but they fall in a similar trap. Cartier’s producer, Lantz, has developed an orchestral trap beat style that almost won Cartier a XXL spot, and an unreleased Killy song, tentatively titled “No Sad Days in LA,” has soaring, razor sharp guitar riffs and furiously satisfying bars. The two boast a similar energy to Lanez and a tasteful use of autotune, but they nonetheless fail to escape the gravitational pull of our attachment to minor keys and similar drum beats.

This isn’t to say these artists are identical or not worth listening to. Nor is this a call for New York boom bap revival — which Joey Bada$$ did, and is done. The problem is that every new Toronto artist who releases music along the same lines of sing-rap and emotional crooning limits our chances of raising the next Chance the Rapper, Anderson .Paak, or Kanye West. There is more musical space to explore, and the market exists for it, yet Toronto artists seem afraid to do so.

Rare is it to hear jazzy dissonant chords in Toronto instrumentals, and yet Mac Miller’s “Dang!” was well received for it. Any vocal styles other than melodic singing — and slightly more aggressive melodic singing — are for the most part shunned by Toronto artists. Yet Chance the Rapper is one of the biggest stars of our generation. Goldlink also employs one of the more interesting vocal techniques in the industry today, and his single “Crew” was recently certified platinum. Anderson .Paak borrows from soul, disco, and jazz, and was nominated for two Grammys. Run the Jewels produced a whole album with only cat noises and vocals. What exactly is our excuse?

The demand for new and revolutionary material never ceases. Toronto consumers are not lovers of just Toronto hip-hop, but hip-hop in all its flavours. There’s no reason we should limit our palate to one or two.

Shows we always come back to

Our contributors share their favourite TV series

Shows we always come back to

You’re probably familiar with the ritual of contemplating how much work you have to do and briefly engaging in an anxiety spiral before turning to your laptop and opening Netflix. Here are some of the shows that our contributors return to time and time again for a bit of nostalgia, or just to shut off for a little while.

I’ve watched the American version of The Office at least four times. Michael’s awkward and inappropriate behaviour combined with Pam and Jim’s continuing love story made the show irresistible to me. There was always something charming about the modest Dunder Mifflin office and the people working within it that reminded me to laugh at the smallest of situations. It’s a show I’ll keep returning to — there’s nothing like laying on your bed, eating soggy Hawaiian pizza and salt and vinegar chips while watching Dwight throw the perfect Garden Party.

— Kaitlyn Simpson

The show I always go back to is Friends. It’s feel-good, funny, and the characters and storylines are still relatable today. It’s a great show to watch after a stressful day of classes.

— Khyrsten Mieras

I always like to go back to Avatar: The Last Airbender because I like to reconnect with fantasy and magic, and keep myself curious about the world.

— Vivian Li

How I Met Your Mother is just a great feel-good, romance-comedy show for when you don’t want to think too hard. Plus, I binged the whole thing when I was 10, so I feel a bit of nostalgia too.

— Kevin Yin

My show of choice is Lizzie McGuire, my go-to for whenever I’m feeling lost or contemplating my life. Definitely a must for those Fridays when I’m missing more stress-free days.

— Carol Eugene Park

My personal mission in life is to get as many people as I can to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine. All it takes is one hilarious cold open followed by its intro music, and I am home, if home were a NYPD precinct in Brooklyn, New York. As a woman of colour, I am tired of seeing shows about five or six white people taking on New York — I’ve watched Friends and How I Met Your Mother, been there done that — where people of colour and queer people make up sidelined, undeveloped characters. Brooklyn Nine-Nine features both without reducing their characters to their sexuality or ethnicity. If you want a show that is both funny and self-aware, I recommend Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It is, in one word, noice.

— Zeahaa Rehman

Inside the resurgence of alternative history

Why television, movies, and video games are exploring alternative timelines and dystopian futures

Inside the resurgence of alternative history

After Donald Trump won the American presidential election last year, books that depict dystopian worlds flew to the top of the Amazon bestsellers list, including literary classics such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, and George Orwell’s 1984.

All of these books aim to depict a world that is simultaneously different yet similar to our own. Exploring the question of ‘what if?’ has obvious appeal in fiction, and depicting different worlds can be both genuinely unsettling and intriguing to consumers. This question has been explored not only in literature, but also in television and even video games.

People have always turned to fiction as a means of coping and for guidance in their lives, and we can see this happening with Trump’s administration. Trump made false claims about the turnout on the day of his inauguration. His press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, described the crowd as “the largest audience to ever witness the inauguration,” an obvious lie. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager in the general election, was besieged with criticism for defending Spicer, using her now infamous phrase ‘alternative facts.’ The administration’s habit of playing loose with facts echoes the manipulations of truth by the totalitarian party depicted in 1984.

Similarly, It Can’t Happen Here is a satire of America in the 1930s if President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had lost to a candidate similar to Trump, named Buzz Windrip. Windrip is believed to have been based on Huey Long, a governor of Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935 and was often criticized for his perceived dictatorial tendencies.

Recently in television and film, darker narratives like Game of ThronesBreaking Bad, and House of Cards have resonated with consumers. Several of the highest grossing films of the past few years have been gritty and violent; compared to past adaptations, the latest Superman films coming out of the DC Extended Universe have been exceedingly cynical. Last year, Deadpool, a raunchy and violent superhero film, also became the highest grossing R-rated film of all time.

Dystopian narratives also fit into this category. Perhaps that is why alternative history is having a renaissance in fiction, as the oppressive worlds depicted have increasing similarities to our own.

This phenomenon began in 2015 with Amazon’s post-World War II series The Man In The High Castle, adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel, which depicts how America might have been affected had the Allied powers lost and imperial Japan and Nazi Germany occupied the US. Dick’s bibliography has been mined by Hollywood before: films like Blade RunnerMinority ReportTotal Recall, and A Scanner Darkly are adaptations of his work.

The Handmaid’s Tale, which depicts a dystopian future in which women are valued only for their reproductive abilities, has not only gained popularity as a novel, but as a 10-episode television adaptation premiered by Hulu this past year. The critical hit won five Emmy Awards and was the first series on a streaming service to win best series. With the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards still to come, The Handmaid’s Tale looks set to sweep even more awards, continuing the paradigm shift of streaming services challenging established networks for the attention of viewers.

In July, HBO announced it had ordered a television program by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss titled Confederate, a drama that takes place in an alternate timeline where the southern states successfully seceded and slavery remained legal. The announcement was highly controversial.

Another relevant example of alternate history’s resurging popularity in mainstream culture is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, an alternative history sci-fi video game developed by Machine Games and published by Bethesda Softworks. Some took the game’s marketing campaign as a response to the events at Charlottesville this past summer, especially its use of hashtags like #NoMoreNazis.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Pete Hines, the vice president of marketing at Bethesda Softworks, addressed the matter in clear terms. “We did use references to recent events in our social media to highlight parallels between what’s taking place in the game and what’s happening in our country,” said Hines. “Ultimately the marketing and the game are about the same, simple message: Nazis are bad, and in Wolf II you get to kick their asses and it’s fun.”

A playlist for the impending doom of finals

Exam season is upon us. Here’s a list of some mellow tunes to make those all-nighters at Robarts a little more bearable.

A playlist for the impending doom of finals

“Mykonos” by Fleet Foxes

Anything from Fleet Foxes is good study music, but this song will help you turn out that final paper while swaying along to this melancholic tune.

“I Need My Girl” by The National

A slow tempo song, great for some reading on a rainy day.

“Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart

This song is full of nostalgia, which will make you look forward to going home for the holidays.

“The Night We Met” by Lord Huron

Any 13 Reasons Why fans will recognize this one. Sorry if it makes you cry to think about Hannah and Clay again.

“Michigan” by The Milk Carton Kids

I’ll admit it, this song’s really depressing. But so is emailing your professor 10 times in one day asking for help on an assignment and getting no response, so it’s fitting.

“Sense of Home” by Harrison Storm

A classic melancholic acoustic track that will make you wish you were sipping some hot chocolate by the fireplace at home right now.

“We Never Met” by Donovan Woods

Don’t you wish you had never met your professors and you could be at home sipping that hot chocolate instead of writing a 15-page essay in one night? Or is that just me?

“Walk Unafraid” by First Aid Kit

This Swedish sister duo is one of my favourite bands of all time. Their harmonies and Americana tunes are out of this world. This track was originally released for the movie Wild and will make you feel just as empowered as Reese Witherspoon so that you can crush your finals.

“Blessed” by Daniel Caesar

I am eternally jealous of those who have tickets to his December shows in Toronto. If you’re one of the lucky ones, use this song as a small reminder that you’ll be having fun again soon.

“Monday Loop” by Tomppabeats

A groovy instrumental that will make reading an entire semester’s worth of readings in one night seem easy.

“A Little Death” by The Neighbourhood

Another groovy tune that might make you want to start dancing in the library. Don’t worry, I won’t judge.

“Let’s Go Surfing” by The Drums

Everyone needs a study break. Blast this song and dance around your room for some much needed stress relief, and maybe start dreaming up your next vacation.

CORPUS dance company presents: House Guests

The intimate performance explores the home as a site for art

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CORPUS, a Toronto-based dance company, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with its newest show, House Guests, in which David Danzon, the company’s artistic director, invites you into his home for a site-specific dance and performative installation.

The show’s setting in Danzon’s house limits the audience to 20 people, making it a small but intimate production. The cast is comprised of five performers: Michael Caldwell, Rob Feetham, Indrit Kasapi, Jolyane Langlois, and Takako Segawa. They move throughout the house, allowing guests to roam freely and view the multiple performances occurring at the same time.

House Guests contests the boundaries of performance by relocating from a traditional theatre setting to a home. “I thought it would be an interesting challenge to bring the site-specificity of my approach to things indoors, with walls surrounding the space,” said Danzon.

Danzon bought his house 17 years ago, but because of all the travelling that he does, he chooses to sublet it. “Over the years, many people have lived in this house, and I don’t know whether to call it my house anymore because I like to think that they’ve left their fingerprints on the walls and in the air.”

The show’s performers drew inspiration from the house’s past inhabitants, spending two weeks of the creation period exploring its spaces. From there, characters began to develop, as did certain themes.

The performers are co-creators of the show, incorporating the feelings they derived from the house into inspiration for one another. “The idea was not to transform the existing spaces, but to use what was there… There was no script to begin with,” said Danzon.

Each performer found inspiration from the house’s different rooms and translated that into mediums such as dance, song, gesture, and even Japanese folk tale.

The performers use improvisation to incorporate the audience members as they move freely through the residence, causing performances to feel more intimate, as the audience feels included. Through these interactive performances, the viewer becomes a house guest.

“Ultimately I’m more interested with experiences than the dance form or the theatre form,” said Danzon. “In terms of the relationship with the audience, I always take the audience’s perspective into consideration when I create a show, and it’s the relationship to the audience that I want to investigate and I like to try to find things to twist expectations around.”

House Guests runs from November 21 to December 17.

Grease gets an update in its tech-savvy Toronto production

Matthew Haber of design studio BeSide Digital explains the challenges of updating the show

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The run of Toronto’s Grease the Musical was recently extended to January 7 at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, which the show attributes to the “amazing support” it’s received from the city. The production, which stars Janel Parrish as Sandy, Dylan S. Wallach as Danny, and Katie Findlay as Rizzo, makes heavy use of onstage technology, including animations and projections.

This is the work of Matthew Haber, the co-founder and managing director of BeSide Digital, a New York City-based experimental design studio. Haber is one of few Americans working on the production, and he travelled frequently back and forth from New York City to Toronto to create the large scale virtual designs that appear in the show. The Varsity spoke to Haber to discuss maintaining a balance between Grease’s 1950s setting, and the modern sensibility provided by the incorporation of technology.

The Varsity: How did you become involved in the production design for Grease?

Matthew Haber: The set designer Paul DePoo, and I had designed a show together a couple years back. When Josh Prince, the director of Grease, brought up a desire for world-building scenic projections, Paul suggested that BeSide and my approach to multimedia storytelling might be a good match for Josh’s vision.

TV: What were some of the challenges involved in the show’s production design?

MH: The story of Grease is really a personal story about young love between the characters. Any time I’m creating physically large-scale projections for a show that has a human-scale story, it’s a challenge to develop a design approach that supports the actors on stage instead of dwarfing them and their storytelling. For Grease, we had to develop compositional and stylistic techniques for the integration of the projection design to ensure that we were most effectively melding our work with the action on stage.

TV: Were you ever concerned about anachronism in using projection or other technology in the show and its setting in the 1950s, or whether this would distract the audience?

MH: Absolutely. We worked really hard to develop an aesthetic sensibility for the show that would help build the world of working class 1950s Chicago in a way that felt analogue and authentic instead of cold and digital. Typically we might rely heavily on techniques such as 3D animation, but for Grease, my team collected thousands of period images and videos over several weeks of research, and those formed much of the visual foundation of the design and really guided the way we constructed the computer-generated visuals that we do have. For example, in “Grease Lightning,” the characters are catapulted through 1950s Chicago surrounded by a complex CGI cityscape, but rather than looking harsh and animated, we developed a look for the sequence that feels more like a vintage postcard come to life.

TV: What sets Grease apart from other shows you’ve worked on, and what should potential playgoers know about the show?

MH: The vast majority of the shows I’ve designed in the past are new plays and musicals, so we’re really working from a clean slate in terms of the visual and narrative vocabularies of the production. Grease carries with it the baggage of an untold number of stage productions as well as the iconic film. Josh, the director, and my fellow designers and I have worked to respect that heritage while also trying to create a production that feels simultaneously true to the show’s roots and fresh for a contemporary audience.

TV: Finally, what is your favourite song from Grease?

MH: Definitely “Grease Lightning,” but that may be because of all the times I listened to it while we created animation for it.

Alumni startup iMerciv wins TELUS Pitch

BuzzClip wearable technology for visually impaired chosen as grand prize winner

Alumni startup iMerciv wins TELUS Pitch

The final prototype for the BuzzClip, a mobility tool for the blind, culminated after 18 months of research and design, and it is now being used by more than 800 individuals.

This project, developed by Bin Liu, a U of T civil engineering graduate and co-founder of iMerciv, was awarded $100,000 through the TELUS Pitch small business competition. Recognized for their promising startup, the team won the grand prize of $100,000 among nearly 3,000 entries. The panel of judges included Arlene Dickinson, the CEO of District Ventures Capital. The other two finalists, Flashfood and JamStack, received a $10,000 prize.

iMerciv specializes in developing technologies to assist those dealing with vision loss, and aims to be a leader in the market by providing a one-stop shop for vision loss and mobility related products. The company’s featured product, the BuzzClip, is a wearable device that uses ultrasound technology to detect obstacles in the user’s path, particularly those at head level. Vibrations notify the user of an obstacle allowing them to recognize and navigate around the obstacle.

The name iMerciv stems from Liu’s desire to give visually impaired users a living experience that is more immersive. Combined with Liu’s interest in civil engineering, the name iMerciv was chosen.

Upon graduation, Liu was accepted into Techno 2014 program at the Impact Centre, and said that as soon as he was accepted into the program, he contacted Arjun Mali, who became iMerciv’s co-founder with Liu. The two previously researched technology for those living with vision loss, but only began conceptualizing their technology during the program. Both were 23 years old when they founded iMerciv.

iMerciv will use the $100,000 grand prize to increase BuzzClip sales and help with production costs of a new product. According to Liu, the money from the competition will help the company expand their presence in Europe and Asia.

It was a personal connection that drove the co-founders to empower and help individuals who are partially sighted or blind. Liu’s father suffers from inoperable glaucoma, and Mali’s family has been supporting a blind orphanage and school in India for decades. “People with vision loss are hugely underserved,” said Liu in an email to The Varsity.

The ‘ah-ha’ moment for the two came after consulting with users and mobility trainers for the blind, and discovering obstacles at head level are a major challenge for individuals with vision loss.

Despite the company’s current success, iMerciv faced challenges in advertising and manufacturing. “We were not able to market to our target audience through traditional media so we had to come up with new ways to reach end users,” said Liu. The two were able to navigate this challenge by attending conferences and utilizing online communities.

Manufacturing the BuzzClip was a time-consuming and costly process. Liu and Mali advise entrepreneurs to “look into marketing strategies earlier on, even before the product is ready” and to “plan ahead for manufacturing cost and time and then multiply both by 3x when you do your first batch of production.”

Despite the challenges, Liu fondly remembers shipping out the first batch of the BuzzClip. “It was one of the most fulfilling moments to see our hard work finally coming to fruition,” he said.

A second product is currently underway at iMerciv with pilot tests set to begin in 2018. “All I can say is that it will be a navigation system for the blind and it will be a game changer,” said Liu.