News and events
2020 Nobel prize in medicine goes to Alberta scientist Posted: October 5, 2020
Michael Houghton was one of three scientists awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine today in recognition of his discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Houghton made the discovery in 1989 while working at Chiron corporation in California. He came to the University of Alberta in 2010 as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He is currently working on a vaccine for Covid-19 among other things. More at UofAlberta Folio Magazine.
Canadian cosmologist wins 2019 Nobel prize for physics Posted: October 8, 2019
Winnipeg-born James Peebles has won 50% of the 2019 Nobel prize in physics. The 84-year-old researcher studies physical cosmology — a field concerned with the dynamics of the universe. He shares the award with Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva. Peebles has been a professor at Princeton University since 1972, but he has always maintained his Canadian citizenship. Peebles won the prize for his work on the cosmic background radiation and more importantly for his theory that the universe is mostly made up of dark matter and dark energy, things we can neither see nor detect, yet they must be there to account for everything that is observable in the universe. Read more in the Globe and Mail.
Canadian discovery could revolutionize blood transfusions Posted: June 11, 2019
Blood types could become a thing of the past if a discovery by UBC biochemist Stephen Withers can be replicated. Withers discovered a pair of enzymes produced by human gut bacteria that can strip the A and B type antigens from red blood cells, thus turning any type A or B blood into type O blood which is the universal blood that works as a transfusion for any person no matter what their blood type. Read more at Science Magazine.
Canada's Donna Strickland shares Nobel physics prize Posted: October 2, 2018
Waterloo University professor Donna Strickland was awarded a 1/4 portion of the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics for her discovery of ultra fast and ultra high power laser pulses in the 1980s while she was working on her PhD at the University of Rochester in the USA. She shares half the Nobel Prize with Gérard Mourou, who was her faculty advisor at the time. Strickland was born in Guelph and continues her research on lasers today. To get an idea of how short and powerful her "chirped pulse amplification" technique is, imagine a hundred thousand billion light bulbs all flashing at once but for only a billionth of a billionth of a second. This technique is now used in most high powered lasers such as the kind that are used for eye surgery and for countless other applications.
Wikipedia page on Donna Strickland
Nobel Prize announcement of Strickland and Mourou's research.
Modern AI was invented in Canada Posted: July 24, 2018
Originally from the UK, Geoff Hinton came to Canada in 1987. Regarding existential risk from artificial intelligence, Hinton has stated that superintelligence seems more than 50 years away, but warns that "there is not a good track record of less intelligent things controlling things of greater intelligence". (Wikipedia) Here's a recent interview of Hinton on YouTube: This Canadian Genius Created Modern AI. (Bloomberg)
Personal Genome Project Canada study results show promise Posted: February 8, 2018
First results from the Personal Genome Project Canada, which sequenced the entire personal genomes of 56 healthy participants, suggest whole genome sequencing can benefit health care in Canada. At least a quarter of the participants' genomes were associated with various diseases or other health conditions according to results published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). Read more about it.
Canadian archaeologists discover evidence of winemaking 8000 years ago Posted: November 14, 2017
8000-year-old traces of ancient wine have been discovered on fragments of ceramic jars found on two excavation sites near Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, nearly a millennium earlier than the previously accepted date. Eight ceramic jars, which were analyzed for residue, came from excavations at two Early Ceramic Neolithic sites, Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora. Authors suggest that winemaking was one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life in the Caucasian region, with wine integrated in every aspect of culture at the time. Stephen Batiuk, senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto is co-author of the paper published in PNAS. For more visit EurekAlert.
How cities affect evolution Posted: November 7, 2017
Human populations are shifting en masse to cities, which is leading to rapid increases in the number and extent of urban areas. Such changes are well known to cause declines in many species, but they can also act as alternative selection pressures to which some species are able to adapt. Rapid adaptation has facilitated the success of some native species in urban areas, but it has also allowed human pests and disease to spread more rapidly. These adaptations typically evolve in response to pesticide use, pollution, local climate, or the physical structure of cities. Learn more at the University of Toronto.
New research finds no link between exceeding recommended fat intake and heart disease Posted: September 5, 2017
A new study published in the Lancet last week challenges popular recommendations for healthy fat and carbohydrate intake, suggesting that the fats may be the lesser of two evils when it comes to heart health. Researchers documented the fat, carbohydrate and protein intake of 135,335 people in 18 countries through questionnaires, following up with the participants for an average of seven years. Scientists noted instances of any cardiovascular disease in the participants during those observation periods. They found no association in their data between consuming more than the recommended amount of fat and developing heart disease. However, participants whose calorie intake was more than 60% carbs were at higher risk of death overall, as well as death not related to cardiovascular disease. Study authors have looked at consumption of both saturated and non-saturated fats, but did not specifically study trans fats, the deleterious effects of which have been described by cardiologists and dieticians.Corresponding Canadian author: Mahshid Dehghan at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Canadian scientists observe hyperfine spectrum of antimatter hydrogen Posted: August 3, 2017
A Canadian-led investigation has opened a new chapter in antimatter research. In a study published today in Nature, the ALPHA Collaboration, which includes 50 physicists from 17 institutions, reports the first detailed observation of spectral lines from an antimatter atom, essentially the atomic finger print of the simplest form of antimatter. Antimatter does not exist in our universe and is instantly anhiliated when it comes into contact with regular matter, so experiments on antimatter must be conducted in magnetic bottles which keep the antimatter from touching anything in our world. The antihydrogen atoms are probed with microwaves to obtain a spectrum. Read more at Phys Org News.
Biofuels help reduce emissions from airplanes at cruise conditions Posted: April 4, 2017
A mixture of biofuel and conventional fuel reduces airplane emissions by 50 to 70% compared to conventional fuel, according to the first ever in-flight study of biofuel aerosol emissions. Researchers including Canadian Anthony Brown at the National Research Council in Ottawa, measured aerosol emissions from an aircraft flying behind the test plane, a technique that provided more accurate results than ground tests. Aerosols released by plane engines in-flight contribute to the formation of clouds, which can affect the climate through their interaction with radiation from sunlight and by changing how much water is stored in the atmosphere. Findings from this in-flight study can help determine the efficiency of biofuel use as a strategy to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. More at Nature.
Canadian beaver genome mapped Posted: January 14, 2017
Scientists at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital have mapped the genome of the Canadian Beaver, castor canadensis, for the first time. Lead scientist Stephen Scherer and his team published the results in the journal G3: Genes/Genomes/Genetics. More at The Globe and Mail.
Canada is looking for a Chief Science Advisor Posted: December 19, 2016
Canada"s Chief Science Advisor will provide scientific advice to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Science and members of the Cabinet. The new Science Advisor's main responsibilities include ensuring open science communication from the government to the public as well as across the government, and helping Canadian scientists speak freely about their work. Application process is expected to close on January 27, 2017. See the job posting and apply at the government's website.
Quantum teleportation demonstration by Canadian scientists lays foundation for secure Quantum Internet Posted: September 24, 2016
Einsteins "spooky action at a distance" was used by a team of Calgary physicists led by professor Wolfgang Tittel to alter the state of entangled photons separated by 6.2 Km from each other over a fibre optic network. The development and implementation of a quantum key distribution systems based on such principles promises to be the ultimate solution to Internet security issues because fundamental quantum laws cannot be compromised by any new technology. Read more at the CBC.
University of Toronto chemists create vitamin-driven battery Posted: August 3, 2016
A team of University of Toronto chemists has created a battery that stores energy in a biologically derived unit, paving the way for cheaper consumer electronics that are easier on the environment.
Canada is looking for astronauts Posted: July 5, 2016
If you have a BSc and three years of professional work experience or a PhD, you qualify to be a Canadian astronaut, and the Canadian Space Agency is looking for two people to fill that role. There are very few other requirements. Any medical doctor is also eligible. You don't have to be Canadian. You can be short or tall. Wear glasses or not. Just don't be colour blind. Obviously you have to be in excellent health and your chances improve if you speak multiple languages, have Canadian citizenship, and happen to be a rocket scientist. But you could be a teacher. Or an IT professional. Anyone working in science, math or engineering. One warning: in Augustf 2017 you will be relocated to Houston, Texas. Sound like fun? Check out the Canadian Astronaut Recruitment page. Deadline is Aug 15, 2016.
Vancouver student wins top prize at Intel International Science Fair Posted: May 13, 2016
Austin Wang was awarded the Gordon E. Moore Award for Best in Fair ($75,000) at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (IISEF) this morning. He placed first amongst the 1700 participants competing in the world’s largest science research competition for high school students. This is the second year in a row that a Canadian has been awarded Best in Fair.
Wang, a Grade 12 student at David Thompson Secondary School in Vancouver, BC, combined microbiology and chemical engineering to approach energy production from a novel perspective. He identified specific genes in E. coli bacteria that greatly improve both the efficiency and economic viability of microbial fuel cells, which convert organic waste into electricity. More at Youth Science Canada.
Canadian prairies to become more productive with climate change Posted: March 25, 2016
The productivity of grasslands in North America will increase in future climate scenarios, despite higher temperatures and increased drought, say researchers from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta and Harvard. An earlier start to the growing season and warmer winter temperatures will allow the productivity of the grasslands to offset the challenges of increased drought and heat. More at the Science Media Centre of Canada.
University of Toronto researcher wins Brain Prize Posted: March 1, 2016
Graham Collingridge, chair of U of T’s physiology department is one of three researchers as recipients of this year’s €1-million ($1.5-million Canadian) Brain Prize, awarded March 1, 2016. Collingridge is known for his research on a mechanism called long-term potentiation. It is the systematic reinforcement of connections between individual neurons in the brain by repeated stimulation. The process has been shown to be crucial for learning and for maintaining memories over the course of a lifetime. More at The Globe and Mail.
The resilience of tropical forests Posted: February 3, 2016
Canadian scientists at the University of Alberta and the University of Regina have published research showing that tropical rainforests regrow after deforestation taking up carbon more quickly than established forests. The foreststs recover most of their biomass within decades. Until now the recovery rate of these forests was unknown, hindering reliable estimates of their ability to absorb and store atmospheric carbon. Original paper in Nature.
Canadian researchers report that 30% of global fish catch is unreported Posted: January 29, 2016
Countries drastically underreport the number of fish caught worldwide, according to a new study, and the numbers obscure a significant decline in the total catch. Canadian fisheries scientists at the Sea Around Us, Global Fisheries Cluster, University of British Columbia, Vancouver published their report this week in the journal Nature. More at the Science Media Centre.
Rumoured detection of gravity waves Posted: January 11, 2016
One of Einstein's as yet unobserved predictions--gravity waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime--may soon be verified. In part, Canadian mathematical models of colliding black holes, which in theory produce massive gravity waves, will be used to analyse data coming from a new gravity wave detector in Hanford, Washington that was just switched on in September of 2015. The Spectral Einstein Code (SpEC) modeling software developed by Harald Pfeiffer at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Toronto together with collaborators at Caltech and Cornell University in the USA can simulate what gravity waves might look like, a necessary first step in detecting them.
Canadian scientists develop faster machine learning algorithm Posted: December 16, 2015
Computer scientist and statistitian Ruslan Salakhutdinov at the University of Toronto along with others at MIT and NYU have developed software that learns to recognize written characters from just one example, as opposed to the more common method of machine learning that requires thousands of examples from massive data sets. The new technique may point the way towards more powerful, more humanlike artificial intelligence. Read more at MIT Technology Review.
Environment Canada finally releases report on Climate Change Posted: November 24, 2015
After a decade of inaction, Environment Canada has finally released a comprehensive report on The Science of Climate Change and how it's a real phenomenon caused by humans burning fossil fuels at ever increasing rates. It catalogues all the consequences for Canada, and near the end shows that virtually ALL of the increase in Canadian greenhouse gas emissions are due to the exploitation of the tar sands in Northern Alberta.
Canadian Scientists in Trudeau’s First Cabinet Posted: November 4, 2015
Today after a very long time Canada finally has a Science Ministry in the federal government. Kirsty Duncan, Canada's new Minister of Science (Etobicoke North, Ontario) has a PhD in medical geography. Her doctoral disertation and subsequent book documents her search for the origins of the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1911, which killed about 5% of the world's population. Unlike the Harper government which shunned scientists, the new Liberal cabinet in addition to the new minister of science includes two physicians, a geoscientist and an engineer/astronaut as well as two economists. Trudeau made the following appointments today:
Dr. Jane Philpott, Markham-Stouffville, Ontario (PHYSICIAN) Minister of Health
Jean-Yves Duclos, Québec, Quebec (ECONOMIST)
Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development
Marc Garneau, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount (Montreal), Quebec (ENGINEER)
Minister of Transport
Carolyn Bennett, Toronto-St. Paul's, Ontario (PHYSICIAN)
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
John McCallum, Markham-Unionville, Ontario (ECONOMIST)
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
Kirsty Duncan, Etobicoke North, Ontario (MEDICAL GEOGRAPHY PHD)
Minister of Science
MaryAnn Mihychuk - Kildonan-St. Paul, Manitoba (GEOSCIENTIST)
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
It is a bit disappointing that the new Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton, Ontario) is not a scientist. Bains has an MBA and considerable corporate experience. Even so, it is extremely cool to have a real live astronaut as the Minister of Transport.
Canadian team sets human powered land speed record Posted: September 18, 2015
Canadian engineer Todd Reichart has claimed the human powered world speed record on land of 137.9 kph (85.71 mph). The Ontario group of scientists and engineers at AeroVelo engineering set the record on September 17, 2015. The same group also won the Sikorsky Prize in 2013 with their record setting Atlas human-powered helicopter. More at Gizmag.
The importance of health care in Canada's federal election Posted: August 25, 2015
In Canada's upcoming 2015 federal election, health care must be a key issue otherwise Canada’s health care problems will continue, according an Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, Deputy Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). The editorial catalogues the many ways that the Harper government has stopped collaborating with the provinces on health care programs and funding. Read more at the CMAJ.
New mouse genes discovered Posted: July 27, 2015
The largest analysis of mouse genes to date has identified the function of 159 genes whose purpose was previously unknown. An international group of researchers including three Canadians developed new statistical methods to analyse the 413 measurements and 320 genes from each mouse. The new data set is available to the scientific community as a reference resource. The researchers took 413 measurements, including body weight, behavioral traits, and grip strength, from over 27,000 mice. They identified physical traits associated with 159 out of 179 genes whose functions were previously unknown. More at the Science Media Centre of Canada.
Footprints found on Canadian West Coast could be oldest in North America Posted: June 25, 2015
Footprints found in clay on the shore of Calvert Island on British Columbia's central coast appear to be 13,200 years old, which would make them older than any others ever found in North America. University of Victoria archeologists Duncan McLaren and Daryl Fedje led the team that made the discovery. More at Hakai Magazine.
Blood turned into nerve cells by Canadian researchers Posted: May 24, 2015
Mick Bhatia, director of McMaster University's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, says his lab hopes to eventually develop neurons that could one day be transplanted into patients to restore healthy brain cells as a treatment for various diseases, like Alzheimer's. More at the CBC.
Canadian scientists solve knuckle-cracking riddle Posted: April 15, 2015
Scientists at the University of Alberta used MRI video to determine what happens inside finger joints to cause the distinctive popping sounds heard when cracking knuckles. For the first time, they observed that the cause is a cavity forming rapidly inside the joint. Watch the video available at the UofA Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.
Canadians love birds Posted: March 10, 2015
Statistics Canada reported today that, based on the 2013 census, one in four Canadian households maintain bird feeders in their gardens. Homes in non-urban settings had the most bird feeders at 36%, while city dwellers provide bird feeders at the rate of 20%. Also, 9% of Canadian families own bird identification books or binoculars for bird watching.
Canadian researchers spin spider silk proteins into artificial silk Posted: February 12, 2015
Spiders make seven different kinds of silk they use for different purposes. But although humans have farmed silkworms for thousands of years, spider silk has proven impractical. Instead, scientists in Jan Rainey's biochemistry lab at Dalhousie University are working out the molecular nature of the strongest kind of spider silk, which is used for wrapping prey, and using the knowledge to create new ultra-strong biomimetic fibers. Read more...
New Canadian guidelines for losing weight Posted: January 26, 2015
The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care has issued its latest guidelines on adult obesity prevention and management. Adult obesity in Canada has nearly tripled in the past 40 years. Today 67% of men and 54% of women are considered overweight or obese making adult obesity one of Canada’s most pressing public health challenges. Among other things the new guidelines recommend life-style changes over diet drugs such as orlistat or metformin. Experts note that a weight reduction of even 5% is beneficial and can extend life expectancy.
How much fossil fuel can we exploit? Posted: January 7, 2015
Canada would need to leave 75 per cent of its oil in the ground as part of a global effort to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a new study shows. The authors also conclude that the exploitation of resources in the Arctic should be ruled out. Using computer models, the authors found that if current global fossil fuel reserves are burned as planned, that will result in CO2 levels on Earth about three times higher than the +2 degree C level predicted by IPCC models. See our Stop The Burning page, Source: Science Media Centre.
Water water everywhere contains life Posted: December 17, 2014
A team of scientists, led by the University of Toronto's Barbara Sherwood Lollar, has mapped the location of hydrogen-rich waters found trapped kilometres beneath Earth's surface in rock fractures in Canada, South Africa and Scandinavia. Hydrogen sulfide and other salts in these waters support bacterial life, possibly for billions of years, which means there could be similar life deep beneath the surface of Mars and other planets. More at eScience news.
Stem cell breakthrough led by Canadian researchers Posted: December 11, 2014
A team of over 50 scientists led by Andras Nagy of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital have discovered a new class of stem cells, which could eventually lead to new treatments for all sorts of diseases. In particular they have characterized all the proteins involved in the three week process that changes an ordinary skin cell into a stem cell, which can then become any kind of cell in the human body. The results are published today in the journal Nature.
Researchers develop clothes that can monitor and transmit biomedical info on wearers Posted: December 3, 2014
Researchers at Université Laval's Faculty of Science and Engineering and Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers have developed smart textiles able to monitor and transmit wearers' biomedical information via wireless or cellular networks. This technological breakthrough, described in a recent article in the scientific journal Sensors, clears a path for a host of new developments for people suffering from chronic diseases, elderly people living alone, and even firemen and police officers. read more