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Marriage is a big decision — and students shouldn’t go into it unprepared

Why the university should provide resources to students about choosing a life partner

Marriage is a big decision — and students shouldn’t go into it unprepared

Until recently, I thought marriage was something that just happened to people, rather than being a conscious, intentional choice. This changed when I completed my undergraduate program four years ago and read The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now. I soon fell in love with the sentiment of the book — that is, you can pick your family, and partnering in marriage can be a deliberate choice based on compatibility and fit.

This does not sound very sexy, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Millennials are marrying later in life than previous generations, and despite the common misconception that delaying marriage allows for the development of better decision-making skills and more life experience before choosing a partner, this delay is not actually a predictor of marital satisfaction.

Irrespective of when it happens, nearly 27 per cent of the population will be married by the age of 25–29. University graduates are also significantly more likely to marry than their counterparts who do not have postsecondary education, perhaps due to financial stability or investment in family.

It is important to acknowledge that many people do not ever get married for a wide variety of reasons — some simply do not want to marry, some prefer other types of romantic partnerships, some are celibate by choice, and some are bound by cultural considerations. However, the fact is that many current students will go on to get married, either right after graduation or later in life. Thus, knowing how to pick wisely is worth knowing something about.

There are many myths that guide millennials in love and relationships that are not particularly helpful, like ‘opposites attract’ or ‘you can’t choose who you love.’ On the contrary, researchers do know what facilitates a good marriage: oppositeness does not sustain happiness, and you can choose who you love. Interestingly, it is similarity in personality that contributes to compatibility and marital satisfaction. If this information were more accessible to university students, it may encourage better-suited partnerships, higher quality of life, and lower rates of divorce.

People who have happier relationships with their partners are happier in their lives overall. Couples partnered in happy marriages can buffer against and alleviate physical pain, contribute to successful recovery from illness, and mitigate the physical and cognitive declines associated with getting older.

For those who do settle into unhappy marriages or those that get progressively worse over time, however, the consequences can be severe. Unhappy marriages have a significant impact on psychological and physical health — so much so that marriage can serve as either a protective or risk factor for illness: happy marriages can facilitate a speedy recovery, while unhappy marriages can exacerbate illness.

The number of marriages in Canada that end in divorce has significantly increased since the 1980s. In addition to the negative physical and psychological impacts of divorce, there are also economic consequences. In national interest, it is advantageous for couples to marry once and stay married, given that separation and divorce have financial impacts and cost taxpayers money due to clerical and legal fees.

Considering the severe consequences to unhappy marriages, marriage may be the most important decision university graduates make. However, there are no university courses or resources available at U of T that advise students on how to choose a partner — and this is something that should be addressed.

Universities are not solely responsible for educating young people on how to pick a good spouse, but parents, communities, pop culture, and the media also play a role. However, universities can make an impact by offering courses and resources on what contributes to and sustains good relationships and marriages during this formative stage of life. Guidance on how to choose a spouse could be offered at the Career Centre or through Student Life. A course through the department of psychology on the science of love could be an option as well.

In addition to what sustains marital satisfaction, if university students were aware of the neuroscience behind their intense feelings of attraction, they might be more cautious and intentional with their choices before investing time in a partner. It is worth noting that we are not only drawn to people by what we think but also by how we feel. There are deal-breakers that deter us from certain people, but attraction is also associated with the limbic, or more reactive, part of the brain. Once the honeymoon phase dulls, and the dopamine levels decline, we may unfortunately find that our partner is not well suited to us at all. Resources that guide students toward making pragmatic choices when picking their partners might help alleviate the negative feelings that come with this outcome, if not prevent it altogether.

Marriage is about much more than love; it is about quality of life and overall happiness. When married, you will spend the majority of your free time with that person, and your spouse becomes your partner in every aspect of life, including finances, leisure, household management, and often child-rearing. More guidance on how to pick your partner is therefore always welcome, and the university is in a good place to provide it.


Kelsey Block is a graduate student in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

E = BTC: the energy cost of bitcoin

The model used by the digital currency is inefficient and leads to a heavy environmental burden

E = BTC: the energy cost of bitcoin

Earlier this year, it was reported that a Russian businessman, Aleksey Kolesnik, had bought two electric power stations solely to meet the electricity requirements for Bitcoin data mining ventures. Similarly, there are stories of Bitcoin miners migrating to towns in Alberta, Oregon, and Iceland, where cheap electricity awaits cryptocurrency entrepreneurs.

One of the lesser known facets of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is the high energy requirements of the mining process. These requirements are causing the gold rush-like movements to areas with cheap electricity.

This electricity need is a result of data mining. To understand cryptocurrency data mining, let’s recap how Bitcoin is generated.

In the modern economy, transactions between entities are validated by third parties in whom we have collectively put our trust. For example, when we pay for products with credit cards, we allow our banks to act as the middleman between us and the merchant. Third parties — from individual accountants, notaries, banks, to entire governments of nations — facilitate and approve transactions to ensure fairness and prevent fraud.

The cryptocurrencies, which began with Bitcoin, were innovative in that they eliminated these middlemen by using Blockchain and the proof-of-work (PoW) model, which ensure unparalleled reliability in the absence of bureaucracy.

A blockchain, as its name suggests, consists of a chain of ‘blocks,’ with each block containing three kinds of information: transaction data, an identifier called hash, and the hash of a previous block to which it is linked. The blockchain acts as a history of all transactions relating to the relevant Bitcoin. It accounts for every Bitcoin in circulation and is available to any user.

Once a transaction is made, it needs to be validated so as to prevent fraudulent activity — in essence, a block needs to be added to the chain. This is where the mining comes in. Miners looking for Bitcoin provide computing power to verify the transaction and compile it into the blockchain. They compete with each other to solve a unique and complex mathematical problem associated with the transaction. Solving the mathematical puzzle is what constitutes blockchains’ PoW.

“You can think of them as mathematical puzzles where, actually, every 10 minutes, there is a new puzzle… and whoever has the resource to find a solution can go and then use that solution to basically certify the last 10 minutes worth of transactions,” said Yuri Takhteyev, a status-only professor at the Faculty of Information, describing the mining process.

As a solution is found for a puzzle, it is communicated across the network and all other miners stop work on that block — which is then added to the blockchain — and move on to the next one.

The mining process thus has two purposes: to confirm transactions by devoting computational work for each block and to release new bitcoins into the system by awarding them to the Bitcoin miner who performed the work. “The important part about it is that it is basically something that you could only solve by trial and error,” explained Takhteyev.

Here lies the problem in the effectiveness of the model. The prize for this effort, currently at 12.5 bitcoins, can mean a windfall of tens of thousands of dollars depending on the value of the extremely volatile currency. Wastefully, the inherent competition in the PoW model where the miners work to find the last link of the single blockchain puzzle only awards a prize to the miner who resolves the puzzle, while a great amount of energy is used by other users in hopes of drawing the right combination.

Like gold in the ground, Bitcoin is a finite resource estimated to total 21 million in number, and despite its already high value, its value is expected to appreciate over time. That is why, even with this systemic inefficiency, data mining centres or ‘farms,’ sometimes each operating thousands of mining machines, have sprung up. To offset operational costs, such ventures seek cheap forms of electricity, sometimes in the form of non-renewable sources.

The Digiconomist website, through its Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, estimates that Bitcoin ventures consume electricity at an annual rate of 58.7 Terawatt hours. This is greater than the electricity needed to power the entire countries of Greece or Algeria for the same amount of time. Only 43 countries have a higher annual energy consumption than Bitcoin mining.

To combat the inefficiency of the PoW model, it has been rumoured that Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, is planning to phase out their PoW model to a Proof of Stake model. The Proof of Stake model follows a deterministic path where the creator of a new block in the chain is chosen based upon selectable criteria, such as their share in a currency, and takes a transaction fee. This reduces the competition, and thus inefficiencies in data mining.

Each Bitcoin transaction is estimated to release over 444 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. “In the days when we’re all worried about global warming, you are just going and burning energy for nothing,” said Takhteyev.

Thus, with its great demand for resources, for Takhteyev and perhaps many others, this move away from the Bitcoin model marks a step in the right direction.

L’Oréal acquires U of T spin-off ModiFace

Tech start-up aims to revolutionize the beauty industry

L’Oréal acquires U of T spin-off ModiFace

French beauty conglomerate L’Oréal recently acquired ModiFace, an augmented reality (AR) tech company founded by University of Toronto engineering professor Parham Aarabi.

This unprecedented move is said to reflect L’Oréal’s plans to reinvent the consumer’s beauty experience. It is the cosmetic giant’s first tech acquisition in its 109-year history and the first time a Fortune 500 beauty company has acquired a major technology company.

ModiFace uses advanced technologies to allow users to render various skin, makeup, and hair effects with mobile apps that track facial features using video or photo capabilities. In short, ModiFace allows individuals to try out a hairstyle or try on lipstick without physically trying them on.

“When it comes to beauty Augmented Reality, ModiFace is the definitive leader in the beauty industry, powering numerous applications including Sephora’s Virtual Artist, L’Oreal’s Style My Hair, and many other AR applications,” said Aarabi, who will retain his position as ModiFace’s CEO.

Since its creation 11 years ago, ModiFace’s technologies have been used by more than 100 brands. ModiFace currently employs approximately 70 engineers, researchers, and scientists, whose output comprises over 200 scientific publications and 30 patents.

For example, L’Oréal’s Style My Hair is a mobile app that allows users to realistically live-test various hair colours.

The technology used by ModiFace was developed using a “mixed-type deep learning model,” that ModiFace employees manually annotated 220,000 facial images for, training the neural network to detect the shape and structure of hair.

“The combination of the leading beauty tech company and the world’s largest beauty company will bring about many interesting advances in AR and soon [artificial intelligence (AI)],” said Aarabi.

Stéphanie Binette, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of L’Oréal Canada, said that ModiFace will join L’Oréal’s Digital Services Factory and benefit from L’Oréal’s “century-old expertise in beauty, [research and innovation (R&I)] and marketing,” and its external open innovation network.

Through new technologies such as AR, AI, and voice enabling, ModiFace will work with L’Oréal’s 34 brands to pioneer new innovations such as makeup and hair colour try-ons, shade finders, skin care diagnostic tools, and AI projects developed around beauty.

“ModiFace technologies based on augmented reality and artificial intelligence will be key to make the shopping experience of the future more fun, effortless and personalized,” said Binette.

Blue skies and solar cars

Student-run Blue Sky Solar Racing team promotes innovation and sustainability

Blue skies and solar cars

Blue Sky Solar Racing has quickly established itself as one of U of T’s leading design teams. Invested in the design, construction, and racing of solar-powered cars, the club is an incubator for innovation. It has attracted more than 100 members and finished 11th out of 35 teams at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in October 2017 with its Polaris car.

The Varsity had a chance to speak with Hubaab Hussain, Managing Director at Blue Sky, about how the team goes from the blueprint to a fully functional, solar-powered car. “Our club takes pride in the ability to not only design, but also build the car by ourselves. We see through the entire build of the car from it’s conceptual design to the time it is on wheels,” said Hussain.

An insider’s look into operations and funding

The club’s annual routine can be segmented into six phases: the learning period, conceptual design, detailed design, building, testing, and racing.

Prior to the construction period, club members identify the particular design and features of the car they hope to build. From there, the team routinely meets every week to review potential ideas for a car design that follows this initial guideline.

According to Hussain, all members are invited to critically evaluate the ongoing design proposals for feasibility and whether one excels in key measures like solar collector performance or total mass. The materials required to build the car, often metal and carbon fibre, are acquired from external vendors.

Hussain explained that assembling the parts to form a fully functional solar-powered vehicle is time-consuming: initial assembly commences in September and extends to the next academic year, with completion expected in June.

Once the car is complete, it is tested extensively in open spaces such as race tracks, air strips, and private lots. Because safety is critically important to the club, there is an active board of certified engineers who examine the car before it’s tested.

Despite extensive planning, the club still faces setbacks. “The most challenging component is sticking to a timeline. A majority of our team members are full time engineering students. During the semester many of the leaders of the team spend a considerable amount of time on this project while managing school as well,” explained Hussain.

In recognition of the club’s continuous accomplishments, Blue Sky Solar Racing receives significant financial support from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and from numerous student bodies and external sponsors. Summed up, the club receives over $300,000 to for the designing and manufacturing of its cars.

Outlook and opportunities

The club’s underlying value of giving students the opportunity to apply their skills outside the classroom is what has driven the team to succeed.

Blue Sky Solar Racing is always on the lookout for exceptional students, irrespective of their stream, to join the engineering, financial, business, IT, or media teams. For interested students, Hussain said to email him or keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities on the Career Learning Network.

“The experience team members get at Blue Sky is incomparable to what they can get elsewhere” said Hussain.

The Varsity Athlete of the Year: TJ Morton

Blues punter TJ Morton talks CFL dreams, Blues memories, and funnel cake

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University of Toronto Varsity Blues football punter TJ Morton has been playing football ever since he was six years old. “I’ve been a quarterback my whole life, I didn’t start just being a kicker or punter until college. I don’t even remember a time I wasn’t playing football,” he says. Maybe it’s genetics, as his parents were both very successful athletes in their college days, or maybe it’s the hard work he puts into his sport, but Morton’s last season with the Blues proved to be one of record-breaking heights.

Morton led Ontario University Athletics (OUA) with a 45.1 punting average, and he now holds the OUA single-season record in punting yards, so there’s no doubt that this soon-to-be varsity alum has his eyes set on a successful future. Receiving the honour of being named an OUA first team all-star and U SPORTS first team All-Canadian in 2017 for a second year in a row, Morton credits some of his motivation to his goal of being a U SPORTS first team All-Canadian.

Although Morton has now successfully been named an All-American and an All-Canadian, it doesn’t stop there. Humble and determined, he has his goals set for the future: there is possibly a spot for him in the CFL, and then he will “see if the NFL opportunity is there.”

Morton started his career with the Blues nearly three years into his university career. Starting off his journey at the National College Athlete Association (NCAA)Division III Susquehanna University, his success has been a long time coming. The switch to the University of Toronto was a big change for Morton. “It’s very competitive [in the states and] it’s a different game…rules wise,” he says.

Morton’s decision to come to U of T was solely about academics. He decided to transfer to a Canadian school in part on the advice of a fellow teammate. “One of my roommates from the states actually transferred up here before me… I was looking for a school to transfer to as well. Just like he did, I typed in the best schools in the world and sent my stuff up here,” he says.

Along with different football rules, the social world was also a change. “You got to grow up quick, especially at a school like this, [with] so many people,” he says. “There’s not really that stage to be immature like there was in the states when I went to a school with 1,000 people in the middle of nowhere.”

Having classes at UTM proved to be a challenge as an already busy varsity athlete. Practicing up to four days a week, commuting to and from school, and maintaining good grades is a balancing act, one that Morton proves to have successfully conquered. “Balancing living downtown and going to UTM was tough,” but Morton still found time for friends, music, and movies. He tells me that his ultimate movie pick is Cool Runnings, and when asked about one food he could eat forever if he had to, Morton answers, without hesitating: “funnel cake.”

Finding time for friends, social lives, and even guilty pleasures can be hard for athletes at times, but Morton explained that many of his teammates have actually become some of his closest friends. “The people you play with are the people you are going to talk to for the rest of your life,” he says. Making sure the team work together and that the players bond is a huge part of a successful and cohesive team, one that Morton says U of T is committed to continue building. “We’re starting to go in a positive direction with our changes… It’s super positive in the change room now [and] people are all getting behind the program.”

In coming to U of T, Morton used his experiences to help others. Teammate Connor Ennis says, “When I transferred here TJ was one of the first guys to welcome me in and help me transition to Toronto, I will always appreciate and thank him for that.” Ennis, a Blues quarterback, says that “playing with TJ was a neat experience, he was a big weapon for us, and his ability to punt the football speaks for itself.”

Morton says that maturity is one skill he has gained while playing for the Blues. “The past three years have shaped me as far as maturity, growing as an individual, balancing academics and athletics, but also pushing myself to a higher level, which comes from the coaching staff and the people that surrounded me.”

Morton says that he will miss the city. “I absolutely love Toronto, playing for U of T, the environment, the people around me, the facilities we have are unreal.” As for school, Morton says, “It’s tough, I won’t miss too much but it really taught me to mature, be a better person, and think outside the box.”

Who knows what’s in store for this determined individual? So far he has been successful, and he hopes that he can continue pursuing his dream of professional football. Morton says that the CFL, and possibly the NFL are his biggest dreams. If not, Morton says, “I want to look at possibly going into medical or pharmaceutical sales.”

Leaving to go back home soon, Morton’s career with the Blues is coming to a bittersweet close. He made a name for himself in U of T’s record books and had an incredible career for the Blues.

The Varsity Athlete of the Year: Emily Ziraldo

Emily Ziraldo and teammates share thoughts on her spectacular season

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A ‘sophomore slump’ is the phrase used to describe when athletes in their second season struggle to replicate the same success they achieved as rookies. The slump occurs when opponents have made the necessary adjustments to combat the sophomore player’s skill, and the once-successful athlete is forced to make changes to stay successful; the ones who can’t adapt get caught in the dreaded slump.

University of Toronto Varsity Blues field hockey midfielder Emily Ziraldo proved to be immune to the trend this past season. She tied with rookie forward Anna Costanzo for the team lead in goals with six, earned U SPORTS all-Canadian and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) All-Star honours, and was key in helping the Blues earn bronze in the OUA Championships to salvage the team’s injury-plagued season. Emily is also a nominee for the Varsity Blues’ annual T-Holders’ Female athlete of the year, presented to the female Blues athlete who exhibits the highest degree of athletic excellence.

Today, however, the third-year student — who was unable to play for the Blues in her first year due to a stress fracture in her foot — is noticeably nervous. We sit across from each other under two bright key lights — the camera in front of us will capture every pause and mistake. She’s wired with a microphone to add to the already unnatural experience of being interviewed.

Ziraldo was named the 2017–2018 The Varsity Athlete of the Year, narrowly defeating world champion swimmer Kylie Masse in a tight race to become the inaugural recipient of the award. Her framed award sits face up on a nearby white sofa. 

These circumstances are a bit different compared to the last time I interviewed her. Back in late September — in the middle of a rollercoaster season that ended well short of the team’s overall goal — she was at least situated in her element sitting beside her identical twin sister, Hilary, in the bleachers ahead of practice at Back Campus Field.

Emily recites last season as if it occured yesterday; the camera becomes an invisible object with no effect on the conversation at hand.

“Field hockey is a team sport and no individual can do it by themselves,” says Emily. “It’s such a fast game that you need the support of all your teammates and everyone has to be on the same page.” Throughout the following week, her teammates — defender Julia Costanzo and midfielders Rachel Spouge and Hilary —  each enter The Varsity individually to chime in on the past season and provide their own perspective on what Emily was able to accomplish.

The 2017 season began with great expectations, with a new head coach at the helm, strong returning veterans, and a close-knit group of third-year players. Even with the departure of star Allison Lee, the team still had an immeasurable confidence level with three consecutive OUA banners behind them.

The Blues started to take form during their preseason exhibition matches against National College Athlete Association (NCAA) Division I schools in the United States, but early into the regular season, a host of injuries severely impacted and changed the composition of their lineup. The team was forced to play all of their rookies and at one point even saw a goalie enter the match as a field player.

Despite having four captains on the roster, there was a period of time when Julia was the only captain on the field. Rachel and Emily “were definitely helpful in those two weeks, which were the roughest weeks of the season,” says Julia.

“We had a stretch where a lot of our fourth- and fifth-year players were the ones injured, so at points me and Emily were the oldest players on the field and we’re only in our third year,” says Julia.

“I think that we never really got a flow on the field, or like a mojo,” says Spouge.

“We never got back to that team that played at Columbia University,” adds Julia.

Spouge says the team was in a bit of a transitional year without a clear goal scorer to lead the Blues attack. The team’s dynamic was far different than in years past when stars like Amanda Woodcroft, Nikki Woodcroft, and Lee provided the bulk of the team offense.

Emily stepped up when her team needed it most, but she admits it wasn’t easy.

“At the beginning [of the season], I put a lot of pressure on myself to score and then mentally, that got to me and it just didn’t work out,” says Emily. “I moved a bit more to forward from the midfield and that definitely helped.”

Emily was a vocal presence on the field, able to answer questions posed by younger players and leading by example. When the Ziraldo twins played at the provincial level, Hilary says coaches often commented that Emily ran too much and was making herself tired. It’s the signature trait of the third-year midfielder — beyond her skill, speed, and versatility — how hard she works is the first thing you’ll notice.

“Yeah she’s making herself tired, but she’s going to keep going because if you’re not there she will be,” says Hilary. “Nothing stops her… When she’s on the field she knows that’s her chance to perform.”

The sense of urgency that Emily plays with only increased after she missed out on playing with the Blues in her first year. Hilary became a captain before Emily had even played a game.

“Missing out on first year was pretty disappointing… When you come to university, you’re really looking forward to get going and get playing,” says Emily.

The hat-trick she scored in the first-half against the Western Mustangs was Emily’s standout performance of the season.

“The first-half hat-trick, that was really nice [and] unexpected, I think for me a lot of it’s mental,” she says. “That game, I think we already knew we were going to come third in the league; everything was solidified going into playoffs, so it was kind of a no pressure game. Just play your best and it just happened.”

Emily played drop centre-forward for the final two weekends of the season, after Hilary returned from injury and Spouge got injured. “She was getting thrown all over the place as usual, it drives her,” says Spouge. “She has this level of competitiveness and when it turns on, it really does.”

Following the season, Emily and Spouge flew to Vancouver to be honoured as all-Canadians at the annual U SPORTS awards gala. The trip also afforded Spouge the chance to be home early before reading week.

“It’s an honour,” says Spouge. “I’m from Vancouver… and I got to show [Emily] around. It was pretty fun.”

Emily, however, wasn’t fully there — her mind was still focused on the team’s failure to win the OUA Championship. “I was thinking more about the team and the bronze, but afterward thinking back, it was really nice to get recognized like that,” says Emily.

Spouge struggles to contain how much she enjoys playing alongside Emily. The enthusiasm in her voice is unrivaled, especially when she recounts the feeling of watching her teammate score. “The game that I love are the 2v1s, it’s kind of fun to fool them and pass with another player and make [opponents] run around like chickens,” she laughs. “The 2v1s with her are my favourite… it fills the soul.”

“The skills she has are so quick, it’s kind of like, ‘She’s going down the field, it’s going to happen’ and it’s like, ‘Goal!’” shouts Spouge. “I don’t think I can do that.”

Julia provides the opposite viewpoint. “Defending Emily in practice is not fun,” she says. “She’s really fast, so I get tired, and she’s really skilled as well.”

The pair — who live together along with Hilary, goaltender Sara Fredo, and two players on the Blues women’s soccer team — have developed a friendly competitive rivalry.  “We’ll push each other around — half joking, half not — half being serious,” she adds. “She definitely pushes the pace at practice.”

“If she’s going down with the ball, even though she’s running faster than me, even though I can’t run that fast, I’m going to run as fast as I can,” says Julia. She believes their high level of competition sets the right tone in practice and provides a great example for the rest of the team.

Off the field, Emily enjoys spending time with friends, though they often have to work around her busy schedule. During the season, the team practice every night and holds lifting sessions twice a week. She also volunteers at a hospital in her spare time.

Spouge says that Emily is the “kindest person you’ll ever meet.”

“She’s a teammate that you can always rely on [and] someone who you can go to for advice,” says Spouge. “She’s extremely hard working in school and that just shows on the field as well because her work ethic is insane.”

Her teammates also believe her particular sense of humour is one of her most distinguishing features.

“Emily jokes around… If she thinks that something is funny, she’ll just say it and then everyone laughs,” says Julia. “Hilary is definitely more calculated, she likes to think and make sure it’s funny before she says it, so she doesn’t say as many crazy or outrageous things that Emily does.”

“Emily has more of like dry humour, she says what everyone’s thinking but not what everyone’s going to say,” laughs Hilary.

There’s a sense of anticipation about next season that’s shared among the team. The adversity they battled through last fall has prepared them for the unknown that surrounds the upcoming season.

Provincial team commitments start again in April for the upcoming summer season. The team is in the process of recruiting to fill out the last few remaining spots on their roster and are focused on getting stronger and preventing injuries.

“I’m really excited to be playing with Hilary [and] playing with the rest of the team,” says Emily. “I think next year we can really make an impact in the OUA and we’re going for gold again.”

“She’ll be a leader no matter what her role is,” adds Hilary.

Highlights of 2017–2018

As the semester wraps up, The Varsity’s Science contributors share their memorable experiences and most interesting tidbits from this school year.

Highlights of 2017–2018

In the 1960s, scientists discovered Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) — traces of radiation in space from the Big Bang. On a human scale, the CMBR is uniform in temperature, but incredibly precise measurements have located its minute temperature fluctuations. These anisotropies are deeply scrutinized by cosmologists trying to understand the early universe.

In my PHY289 seminar course, I had the privilege of listening to Raman Sundrum, a professor from the University of Maryland, explain one of the more startling properties of CMBR anisotropies: their fractal nature. Fractals are a beautiful realm of mathematics that describe the nature of shapes that are self-similar and identical when zoomed in or zoomed out. Think of the Amazon: sinuously curved on a topological map and equally snakelike as it rushes past the shade-laden trees of the jungle.

CMBR temperature anisotropies are, to be more precise, stochastic fractals, so their scale-independent consistency does not reveal itself without the aid of statistical analysis. Yet it is no large exaggeration — and I checked with Professor Sundrum — to say that the CMBR, the snapshot of our universe’s infancy, is in some sense like the phenomena we might find here on Earth. Such examples include the branching arcs of lightning in a spring storm or the rabbit hole whorls of a seashell. They are ubiquitous in nature and surround us from the form of the ceilings of the Alhambra to the cosmic scales of space.

— Tahmeed Shafiq is a first-year student studying Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

In my CJH332 — Neurobiology of the Synapse class, I learned that some research has suggested that stress is as transmissible as the flu virus. This made me think of the many instances when I sat at the back of the room during an exam, looking at everyone in front of me, my mind rampant with stressful thoughts.

I would look around the room and watch people scratch their head vigorously or watch someone leave the exam room. The anxiety used to weigh on me so much that being in the exam room started to stress me out more than the exam itself.

After learning about how stress can be transmissible, I started sitting at the front of the exam room, where I would only be aware of myself and no one else. It is pretty amazing how something I learned in class unexpectedly changed my behaviour in a positive and meaningful way.

— Charmaine Nyakonda is a third-year student studying Neuroscience and Health Studies.

Life in a biochemistry lab is never boring: there are curious people, interesting facts, and lots of fun experiments. Still, when you are in the process of discovering just how correct Edison was in saying that there are 10,000 ways that things don’t work, lab duties can sometimes feel like the tagline from Groundhog Day: “He’s having the worst day of his life… over, and over.”

You emerge after a long day of work, the sun has set, and the shadow of a failed experiment follows you home by moonlight. Waking up the next day, the realization hits that you’ve got to do it all over again — but this time, you have a slightly better understanding of what lies ahead: tweaks to the protocol, followed by slightly more promising failures day after day.

That was how my academic year started until one day, contrary to the dark omen of a snowstorm outside the window, a shimmering diffraction of light under the microscope met my eye, hinting at success — a protein crystal. As they say, hope springs eternal in a science lab. There are always peaks and troughs when working, depending on expectations and the experimental results. In tough times, perseverance is the only way to survive.

— Vaibhav Bhandari is a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry.

This year I had the honour of taking BIO130 — Molecular and Cell Biology with Professor Kenneth Yip, who is by far the funniest professor I’ve met at U of T. He has a way of teaching biology — a subject synonymous with ‘boring’ and ‘memorization-oriented’ for many — that makes me want to attend every 6:00–9:00 pm lecture.

His pre-lecture preamble indulges our scientific curiosities and makes us actually laugh out loud. He shows us funny science commercials, cheesy biology pick-up lines, and amazingly relevant memes to explain that science isn’t just about sitting in a lecture hall and taking notes. Being a scientist doesn’t mean that you are always serious all the time.

My favourite moment was when he explained nanotechnology with unbelievable ease: “We just use membranes to send a drug or other substances to a target location in the body — that’s nanotechnology!” That changed my life.

— Anya Rakhecha is a first-year Life Sciences student.                                                                        

With the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Friday Night Live (FNL) and the Art Gallery of Ontario’s First Thursdays becoming popular party destinations, museums and art galleries are beginning to look more and more like night clubs — and I think that is fantastic. In a trick-like manner, these events beckon you to come for the drinks and the DJs, but you end up staying for the dinosaurs. While lately events like these have helped renew my interest in these institutions, it was a course I took this fall that showed me how critically important our museums are.

In EEB466 — Approaches to the Study of Biodiversity, I had the privilege of visiting the ROM’s collections, which are all the specimens behind closed doors. In fact, one of the things that I learned in this class is that the majority of museum specimens are hidden from the public eye.

Although hidden, these specimens are not useless — it turns out that dead things are extraordinarily useful for researching the living. By providing a snapshot in time, museum specimens have been used to study the effects of past climate change, helping scientists make informed predictions about the effects of the global warming of today. Specimens have even been used to solve mysteries: through testing preserved museums’ specimens, it was discovered that the virus responsible for the 1918 flu epidemic likely did not originate in birds, as previously thought.

Beyond appreciating the scientific importance of museums, this class allowed me to experience childlike wonder again by showing me marine isopods larger than my torso and extinct bird species. Although it was the smallest specimen I saw, the 300-million-year-old fish vertebrae I got to hold in the palm of my hand during a lab session was the turning point for how I thought about museums.

To know that life on Earth is old and ever-prospering was humbling. At the ROM, FNL-goers dance alongside Futalognkosaurus and are among hundreds of millions of years of life. It is our duty to preserve it for a few hundred million more.

— Clara Thaysen is a fifth-year student studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is an Associate Science Editor at The Varsity.

Rough drafts

A letter from Jacob Lorinc, Editor-in-Chief 2017–2018

Rough drafts

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aking a newspaper is an exhausting process. The hours are late, the work is meticulous, and the pay is nothing to envy. But thankfully, with hard-working individuals at the helm, the job appears less cumbersome and the obstacles more surmountable.

This year, The Varsity was lucky enough to have an abundance of hard-working individuals contributing to the paper. With their work in mind, I’m happy for my final letter of Volume CXXXVIII to be a positive one.

Amid declining ad revenue and an ever-shaky media landscape, The Varsity has seen considerable expansion over the past 11 months. In late March we surpassed 1.2 million page views — a 16.5 per cent increase over the previous year — and as of Issue 24 we have published over 1,000 articles. We’ve brought in over 400 contributors, over 100 of whom are staff.

The results of our levy referendum, held earlier in the semester, indicate that The Varsity will expand its membership to full-time graduate students, a body of over 17,000 people, while the introduction of a translated Chinese edition of our website, brought to us by an ambitious new group on campus called The Listeners, has increased our accessibility to thousands of students. As we move forward, future mastheads will be tasked with considering how best to cater to the students whose primary concerns lie beyond our colloquial coverage and whose campuses lie beyond the downtown core. We have the resources necessary to expand — it’s simply a matter of how best to do it.

There’s a magnitude of work that goes into each issue — work to which you, the reader, are not often privy. Every paper is made possible by a dedicated group of writers, editors, designers, illustrators, and photographers, all of whom work tirelessly and passionately to deliver a presentable final product.

In the final weeks of my tenure, I couldn’t be more grateful to these individuals for their efforts. Thanks is owed to a zealous masthead, as well as to all the volunteers and staff members who made this volume possible.

To the Board of Directors: thank you for playing an integral, if often overlooked, role in our broader ambitions. To Kary Cozens: thank you for running one of the most reliable business teams we’ve had in years. To the late-night Sunday production crew — Elham Numan, Tom Yun, Blythe Hunter, and Michael Teoh — thank you for sticking around well past reasonable work hours. To former editor Alex McKeen: thank you for your endless wisdom and your willingness to share it.

As this volume draws to a close, I feel especially confident in the The Varsity’s future. My capable successor, Jack Denton, has laid out a bold vision for the paper, one that will surely serve to broaden this institution’s horizons. While the future of print media is uncertain, I have no doubt that future mastheads will develop new ways of navigating it.

I think we sometimes forget, in the chaos of the day-to-day newsroom, that our role as the press is not only to deliver the daily news, but — as a former publisher of The Washington Post once put it — to write the first rough drafts of history. To be a newspaper of record, as we habitually call ourselves, is to situate the events of the day in a greater context, so that future generations can understand their place in the students’ history of the university.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s rough draft; it’s been a pleasure bringing it to you.

— Jacob Lorinc, Editor-in-Chief
2017–2018, Vol. CXXXVIII