Posts about Canada

Canadian Meteorite Fragments Found

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite

Pictures of Canadian Meteorite Fragments

Planetary scientist Dr. Alan Hildebrand from the University of Calgary and graduate student Ellen Milley brought reporters to a site where they have found numerous meteorite fragments from the bolide that streaked across the sky in Western Canada

The fireball that streaked across western Canadian skies was witnessed by thousands, and Hildebrand believes it was a 10-ton fragment from an asteroid. Videos from surveillance and police cameras [see below] showed the meteor exploding before it hit the ground

Photo: University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond. By Geoff Howe, The Canadian Press.

Related: U of C team finds meteor fragmentsMeteorite, Older than the Sun, Found in Canada (this is a different meteorite – story from 2007) – In Tunguska, Siberia 99 Years AgoMeteorite Lands in New Jersey Bathroom
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High School Student Isolates Microbe that Eats Plastic

WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags

Daniel Burd’s project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

First, he ground plastic bags into a powder. Next, he used ordinary household chemicals, yeast and tap water to create a solution that would encourage microbe growth. To that, he added the plastic powder and dirt. Then the solution sat in a shaker at 30 degrees.

After three months of upping the concentration of plastic-eating microbes, Burd filtered out the remaining plastic powder and put his bacterial culture into three flasks with strips of plastic cut from grocery bags. As a control, he also added plastic to flasks containing boiled and therefore dead bacterial culture.

Six weeks later, he weighed the strips of plastic. The control strips were the same. But the ones that had been in the live bacterial culture weighed an average of 17 per cent less.

The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide — each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd.

“This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We’re using nature to solve a man-made problem.” Burd would like to take his project further and see it be used. He plans to study science at university, but in the meantime he’s busy with things such as student council, sports and music.

Related: Bacteria Survive On All Antibiotic DietMicrobes May Use Chemicals to Compete for FoodSiemens Westinghouse Competition Winners 2005

Seeking Solar Supremacy

The dance of the particles

Engineering professors Ray LaPierre, who is working with Cleanfield on solar cells made from a dense turf of nanowires, and Adrian Kitai, who co-founded Flexible Solar to make bendable solar panels that are less costly to manufacture, are showing how skills typically prized in the telecom sector can be repurposed to build better solar technologies.

Similar efforts are also being made at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Optical Sciences, where a new spin-off called The Solar Venture aims to improve the economics of solar. “Ontario was a global leader in telecom, but now that has slowed down,” says Rafael Kleiman, professor of engineering physics and director of McMaster’s Centre for Emerging Device Technologies. “All the people, all this research (in telecom), is finding a new home. I really believe Ontario can make itself a global hub in solar photovoltaic technologies.”

A solar cell is just a big specialized chip, so everything we’ve learned about making chips applies,” Paul Saffo, an engineering professor at Stanford University, recently told the New York Times. There’s a reason why California’s Silicon Valley, the headquarters of data-networking king Cisco Systems and semiconductor goliath Intel, is positioning itself as Solar Valley.

All around the world people are aiming to create centers of excellence for solar power research and production.

Related: Economic Strength Through Technology LeadershipLarge-Scale, Cheap Solar ElectricityEconomic Impact of Educational InstitutionsSolar Power InnovationNanotechnology Supports National Economic PolicyEntrepreneurial Engineers

Funding Medical Research

Cheap, ‘safe’ drug kills most cancers

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe. It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks.

DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells: the fact that they make their energy throughout the main body of the cell, rather than in distinct organelles called mitochondria. This process, called glycolysis, is inefficient and uses up vast amounts of sugar.

Until now it had been assumed that cancer cells used glycolysis because their mitochondria were irreparably damaged. However, Michelakis’s experiments prove this is not the case, because DCA reawakened the mitochondria in cancer cells. The cells then withered and died

The University of Alberta is raising funds to further the research. Some look at this and indite a funding system that does not support research for human health unless there is profit to be made. Much of the blame seems to go to profit focused drug companies. I can see room for some criticism. But really I think the criticism is misplaced.

The organizations for which curing cancer is the partial aim (rather than making money) say government (partial aim or public health…), public universities (partial aim of science research or medical research…), foundations, cancer societies, private universities… should fund such efforts, if they have merit. Universities have huge research budgets. Unfortunately many see profit as their objective and research as the means to the objective (based on their actions not their claims). These entities with supposedly noble purposes are the entities I blame most, not profit focused companies (though yes, if they claim an aim of health care they I would blame them too).

Now I don’t know what category this particular research falls into. Extremely promising or a decent risk that might work just like hundreds or thousands of other possibilities. But lets look at several possibilities. Some others thoughts on where it falls: Dichloroacetate to enter clinical trials in cancer patients, from a previous post here – Not a Cancer Cure Yet, The dichloroacetate (DCA) cancer kerfuffle, CBC’s ‘The Current’ on dichloroacetate (DCA), Dichloroacetate (DCA) Phase II Trial To Begin (“Like hundreds (if not, thousands) of compounds being tested to treat cancer, DCA was shown by Michelakis’ group earlier this year to slow the growth of human lung tumors in a preclinical rodent model.”).
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Ranking Universities Worldwide

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities provides another estimate of the top universities. The methodology is far ideal however I still find it interesting. The various attempts to rank schools can provide a general idea of impact of various institutions (though the measures are fairly crude). Still a sensible picture (especially at the country level) can emerge. And the various rankings should be a able to track shifts in the most influential institutions and relative country strength over time. How quickly those rankings track changes will vary depending on the measures used. I would imagine most will lag the “real” changes as it is easy to imagine many measures that would lag. Still, as I have said before, I expect the USA will lose in relative ranking compared to China, India, Japan, Singapore, Mexico…

The ranking methodology used here weighed rankings in: Jiao Tong academic rankings, Essential Science Indicators, Google Scholar, Alexa (a measure of web site visits to universities) and The Times Higher World University Rankings.

Country representation of the top universities (number of top schools in each country):

location Webometrics
Top 100
Jiao Tong
Top 101
% of World
% of World GDP*
USA 53 54   4.6%   30.4%
Germany 10   5  1.3   6.3
Canada   8   4  0.5   2.5
United Kingdom   6 10  0.9   5.0
Australia   3   2  0.3   1.6
Japan   1   6 2.0 10.3
The rest of Europe 16 13
Brazil   1   0   2.8   1.8
Mexico   1   0   1.6   1.7
Israel   0   1   0.1   0.3

* IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, September 2006 (2005 data)
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The World’s Best Research Universities

Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University produces a ranking of the top universities annually (since 2003). The methodology used focuses on research (publications) and faculty quality (Fields and Nobel awards and citations). While this seems a very simplistic ranking it still provides some interesting data: highlights from the 2006 rankings of Top 500 Universities worldwide include:

Country representation in the top schools:

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location Top 101 % of World
% of World GDP % of top 500
USA 54   4.6%   28.4%  33.4%
United Kingdom 10  0.9   5.1 8.6
Japan   6 2.0 11.2 6.4
Canada   4  0.5   2.4 8.0
The rest of Europe 18 4.4
Australia   2   0.3   1.5 3.2
Israel   1   0.1   0.3 1.4

Update: see our post on 2007 best research universities results

Top 10 schools:

  • Harvard University
  • Cambridge University
  • Stanford University
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT)
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Columbia University
  • Princeton University
  • University Chicago
  • Oxford University

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