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The Bottle-Neck Effect

Posted: December 2nd, 2011, by grace jauristo


Photo of Killer Whale courtesy of


Over 500 species of plants and animals are considered at risk in Canada. The 2003 Species At Risk Act (SARA) was implemented to protect these species. However, out of those 500 species that are currently listed, only 150 have recovery strategies and only four have implemented recovery action plans.  It is clear that this act must be improved if Canadian species are going to be protected. This was the motivation behind the November 2010 paper, “Science, Policy and Species at Risk in Canada” by Dr.Jeannette Whitton et al. This paper took an in-depth look into how SARA works and how to improve it.   (See video for an overview of the paper.)



Video: The Bottleneck Effect

 Issues with SARA:

Listing stage


  • Lack of expertise
When the Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC, prioritizes the species that are more likely to go extinct, the species for which there is less expertise ends up being classified as “data deficient,” and most likely do not get listed. The government has no obligation to conduct further research or assessment on them, so “data deficient” species remain unaccounted for. This may become a bigger problem in the future as the focus switches to listing invertebrates, where there is even less knowledge.
  • Timing is Everything

Status assessment by COSEWIC and legal listing by the federal government are currently two separate steps in SARA. Unfortunately, this structure gives the government “an opportunity to avoid or delay the costs and consequences of protecting imperiled wildlife species.” This may explain why the federal government chose not to list 23% of the species recommended by COSEWIC between 2003 and 2007. On the other hand, this separation “allows a time window for stakeholders and civil society to become more involved in the legal listing process” and “allows for a transparent separation of science and policy.” Researchers believe these benefits far outweigh the negative effect of separation.

  • Economics vs. Science

Governments have to take into account the financial impacts of their decisions, and Canada’s government is no exception. The government relies on economic impact analysis to decide which COSEWIC-recommended species should be labelled “at risk” but researchers see their analysis as “incomplete.” Economic concerns make up “50% of the cases in which listing has been denied outright [by the government].” For this reason, researchers question the effectiveness of the current structure, stating that the “economic analysis is not supplied as independent science advice but rather is embedded in a nonscientific policy-based framework.” They suggest that the analysis comes too early in SARA’s evaluation process and thus economic concerns end up outweighing scientific considerations and dominating the listing process.



Recovery strategies: Ineffective meshing of science and policy.


  • Lack of Clarity
Creating recovery strategies has been “slow and problematic.” Scientific assessments and socioeconomic considerations quite often end up contradicting each other and therefore it should be made clear which is considered the most important in each case.
  • Lack of Definitions
To help at risk species survive and recover, we need to explicitly define these terms. The Canadian government has suggested survival “would mean maintaining the current population in the ‘short term’.”  But it is open to interpretation what represents ‘short term’ in Canadian policy? Also if this was the case, for a species at risk of extinction, merely maintaining its population in the short term “would provide little assurance of continued survival.” Recovery has been defined as “long-term persistence” or when decline is “arrested or reversed.” The ‘or’ in this definition allows the government to choose the easier option of arresting decline rather than reversing it.  Do you think stopping decline is enough to be classified as recovery?
  • Defining Habitat Issues

Classifying the critical habitat of species has been highly controversial. The law to identify critical habitat “to the extent possible using the best available information” is not reflected in how many habitats have actually been identified; habitat has only been defined for 23 of the 104 species with finalized recovery strategies. However, researchers think this may improve in the future as a result of two court cases in 2009 that successfully challenged recovery strategies that omitted known critical habitat from the final strategy.

  • Conflicting Interests Overshadow Scientific Content
The biggest issue in preparing recovery strategies is that the government ministries that currently oversee the process “may have conflicting interests.”  To prevent this influence from distorting scientific assessments, researchers propose the science should be presented separately from governmental assessment in a new two-step listing process.  The proposed differences can be seen in figure 1 below.

Current and suggested structures of SARA "Science, Policy and Species at Risk in Canada"



Suggestions for Improving SARA
In conclusion, the current Species at Risk Act is leading to a bottleneck effect; only 4 species have recovery action plans even though over 500 species are listed as ‘at risk’.  SARA considers both scientific and economic concerns, but it is not always clear which of these two factors is viewed as the most important. To improve the number of action plans being finalised, the researchers make a number of suggestions.


The paper’s suggestions:

  1. creating a mandated framework with a two-step listing process to separate independent science and government policy decisions.
  2. incorporating timely independent, non-governmental peer review of decisions.
  3. defining important terms more clearly to avoid misinterpretation and taking shortcuts.
  4. making the whole process more transparent.


One of the researchers, Dr. Jeannette Whitton thinks the transparency of science is especially important during the creation of recovery strategies. It needs to be clear what the ideal situation for the recovery of a species is, what the most realistic scenario will be, and why these two assessments differ.  The taxpayers are funding this process and therefore they have a right to see what is happening.  The government is currently conducting a long overdue review of SARA and the researchers hope that their suggestions will be taken into account.


See the SARA website for up to date information on the Species At Risk Act, new listings and recovery strategies.


Banff Spring Snail Photo © Mark and Leslie Degner

Podcast – Detailed information of specific species
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 A discussion with Dr. Whitton about specific species at risk
  • Movie by: Grace Jauristo
  • Script by: Grace, Maki, Matt and Junaid
  • Blog by: Maki Sumitani and Matt Wagstaff
  • Podcast by: Junaid Sargana
  • “Science, Policy, and Species at Risk in Canada” by Arne O. Mooers, Dan F. Doak C, Scott Findlay, David M. Green, Chris Grouios, Lisa L. Manne, Azadeh Rashvand, Murray A. Rudd, and Jeannette Whitton.  Published in BioScience, Vol.60 No.10, November 2010
Thank you!
  • We would like to thank Dr.Jeannette Whitton and Geoff Hoare for their contributions
  • Thank you to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC and the Vancouver Aquarium for allowing us to film and take photos
  • Thanks to the science 300 professors, Eric Jandciu and Jackie Stewart for all their help and advice.
  • Take a look at this link for some more information: endangered species in Canada

Unraveling the Web of Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted: December 2nd, 2011, by Andrea Wan

In January 2010, Dr. Cheryl Wellington and her team of researchers at the University of British Columbia made great strides by determining a potential treatment to relieve the loss of brain function caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. It is an incurable disease that progressively deteriorates mental function and causes memory loss as well as an inability to effectively communicate, reason and use one’s problem solving skills. Currently, over 26.6 million people suffer from it worldwide.

From a scientific point of view, Alzheimer’s is caused by an accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain. When these misfolded proteins group together, they produce plaques. As a result, these plaques can cause swelling and damage to the brain, which leads to the symptoms seen in Alzheimer’s patients. In the most severe cases, not only does AD inhibit mental function, but it also interferes with how the body regulates its basic functions (e.g. respiration and heart rate), and this can cause death.


AD-2 by Flickr user Zerd: The image above illustrates plaques (red) and tangles (green) in a brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.


In the podcast below, Dr. Cheryl Wellington gives more insight into Alzheimer’s and how it progressively disables mental function in a patient. She also outlines the steps that people can take in their mid-life to help prevent the onset of the disease.

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As mentioned in the podcast, there are currently no drugs on the market that can stop the disease in its entirety. However, this is where Dr. Wellington’s research fills a knowledge gap and sets the foundation to find a potential drug that can be marketed to all AD patients.

 Wide Brain by Flickr user Enrique T: An image illustrating the plaque deposits present in an AD mouse.


In this video, we introduce Cheryl’s research, explain the drug that she works on and illustrate how she uses mice models to determine the drug’s effect on Alzheimer’s disease.

[youtube= q2IZW1fvz2M&w=640&h=385]


One of the major difficulties that Alzheimer’s presents is its target population: a majority of people diagnosed with AD are over 65 years old. For this reason, the sufferers heavily rely on caregivers and close relatives for assistance. Consequently, the disease can create extreme stress and hardships within a family and financial burdens on our healthcare system. To this end, even though Cheryl’s research is promising, it is important to remember that Alzheimer’s isn’t part of normal aging: steps can be taken to prevent this disease altogether. By maintain a healthy lifestyle and exercising on a regular basis (especially in your 40’s and 50’s), you can diminish the likelihood of Alzheimer’s taking root in the brain and starting the plaque-building process. But don’t wait until your 40’s to start exercising!  Develop these habits at an early age – you’ll thank yourself later!


Further reading:

Dr. Wellington’s original research paper:


DNA, Prepare To Be Eaten!

Posted: December 2nd, 2011, by cha56

DNA Uptake

Can you imagine working on something that is neither a plant nor an animal? Dr. Rosemary Redfield makes it her mission to study bacteria. Too small to see with the naked eyes, bacteria are unicellular microorganisms that do not have organelles or a nucleus. Some bacteria can be harmful to humans, whereas others can be beneficial. For example, some bacteria cause infections such as a strep throat whilst others aid in our digestion.


Many scientists commonly believe that it must be beneficial for bacteria to incorporate  DNA sequences into its own genome. They believe that this process of acquiring the DNA from the environment exists to make new random combinations of genes. These new combinations would replace the genes currently residing within the cell. However, Dr. Redfield did not simply accept this theory to be true; she began to question exactly what the purpose behind this process is. To her, the idea that the bacteria would take up genes lying around in the environment is not probable. One possible explanation is that the foreign DNA is left behind by dead cells; thus, they are unlikely to be useful. Dr. Redfield proposes that regardless of whether the DNA uptake will be beneficial to the bacteria or not, the accumulation of the DNA sequences in the cell would still occur.

The Redfield Lab

Dr. Redfield hypothesized that the bacteria were either making new combinations of the genes by accident or it could have been a side effect from another important process. Nevertheless, Dr. Redfield believes that the bacteria uptake DNA for food, which is a radical idea for many scientists.

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Haemophilus influenzae bacteria By SCIENCE PHOTO



To test her theory, Dr. Redfield needed to choose a type of bacteria that were “picky eaters.” Most bacteria do not have a preference for the DNA sequences that they uptake. However, she found two unusual types of bacteria that turned out to be picky eaters: Haemophilus influenzae and Neisseria gonorrheae. They both have a preference for the specific sequences of the DNA that they will accumulate; and these chosen sequences are similar to their own.

How is Dr. Redfield’s research relevant to you?
Her research probably will not impact you drastically in your daily lives, but that does not mean that it will never affect you in the future. Scientists are now interested in how and when bacteria are able or unable to reproduce. Once they discover the types of DNA the bacteria eat and how they acquire their food, scientists will be able to control their growth.

Further research on this field will prove to be very essential for medical purposes.The knowledge of how bacteria work is crucial to humanity. Bacteria are all around us and they deserve our time for they can be beneficial, and yet harmful to our society.

Photo with Dr. Rosemary Redfield Taken By: Hanna Oh at The Life Science Building


Credits for Podcast:
Script written by: Hanna Oh, Cha Tumtaweetikul, Jacyln Wiebe, Steven Xian
Interviewee: Dr. Rosemary Redfield
Narrated by: Hanna Oh, Cha Tumtaweetikul, Jacyln Wiebe, Steven Xian
Soundtrack credits to: suonho, Puniho, FreqMan, mansardian, BristolStories, digifishmusic, milton. and Setuniman.
Editted by: Steven Xian
Equipment and advices: Bruce Dunham, Eric Jandciu, Jackie Stewart, Andrew Trites from SCIE300.


We would like to thank Dr. Rosemary Redfield for her interview and her Uptake Video animation and also the SCIE300 professors and teaching assistants: Bruce Dunham, Eric Jandciu, Jackie Stewart, and Andrew Trites for their advice.


For References and More Information, Check out Dr. Redfield’s Lab:

Steller Sea Lions: How can we help?

Posted: December 2nd, 2011, by angelale


Steller Sea Lions live in the Pacific Rim from Japan to California with 70% living in Alaska. Sadly, their population has been drastically declining since the 1970s due to many reasons:

  • predation by killer whales,
  • increase in parasites and diseases
  • nutritional stress due to competition for food with humans.

Some fishing companies even deliberately kill these animals since they view them as competition and a threat to fish stocks. Currently, the western stock is endangered and the eastern stock is listed as threatened.

Check out our video below for what Beth Young and her colleagues are doing now to save the Steller sea lions and to meet these friendly animals!


What is the government doing?

Because Steller sea lions are endangered, several laws have been implemented to protect their survival.

  • Fisheries Act: a license is required to operate a fishery, and records of transactions and operations must be produced on demand of a fishery inspector or conservation officer.  This practice keeps fisheries from over harvesting, which would harm the Steller sea lion population.
  • Endangered Species Act: ensures that federal agencies do not harm any listed species which includes the Steller sea lion. Habitats where the listed animals are found are protected by the Habitat Conservation Plan.
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act:  provides population censuses, health assessments, development of conservation plans, and protection regulations.  This act also appoints staff to conserve and manage the populations of marine mammals that are at risk.


What about other animals?

Steller sea lions aren’t the only animals that can benefit from Beth’s research…


California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) on Morro Strand State Beach, Morro Bay, CA. Photo by Mike Baird.



The California sea lion is a close cousin to the Steller sea lion. Currently classified as low risk concern on the IUCN endangered species red list, with time, they may become just as threatened as the Steller sea lion.







Northern fur seal at the New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by flickr user cphoffman42.


Another species that could benefit from Beth’s findings is a much smaller second cousin: The Northern Fur Seal. Currently listed as at risk for endangerment on the IUCN list, they are experiencing a downward population trend.






With Beth’s results, we could ensure the food requirements of these species are met so they don’t become a forgotten fossil.


Check out the SCIE 300 communicating science podcast for more information on the Steller sea lion species, how Beth believes her findings could be applied to other species, and potential sources of error in her experiment.

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Interview with Beth Young


In Conclusion…

The Steller sea lion plays an important part in the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Every species of life that it interacts with, from the food it eats, to its natural predators, will be greatly affected if the Steller sea lion population continues to decrease. We hope that our various media (the above video, podcast, and this blog post) are able to convey some of the latest research findings on Steller sea lions in a clear and understandable manner, and bring more attention of this matter to the public eye.

More information on why Steller sea lions are endangered, as well as summaries of the latest research findings made at the Open Water Research Lab can be found at the Vancouver Aquarium website.


The Lower Fraser Valley Warms Up to Ozone – The Warning of the Global Warming

Posted: December 2nd, 2011, by mins

In Dr. Down Steyn’s research paper, “Impact of Climate Change on Ozone Pollution in the Lower Fraser Valley, Canada,” he analyzed climate patterns to determine which types led to elevated levels of ozone. His analysis allowed him to predict if there would be an increase in episodes of elevated ozone levels in the future (2046-2065). Dr. Steyn used different statistical techniques to capture the climate pattern, and applied these to forecast the future of air quality in the Lower Fraser Valley. According to Dr. Steyn, episodes of elevated ozone levels will increase to a dangerous amount due to global warming, and as such actions must be taken to address this problem. 


Environmental Canada: The image of Lower Fraser Valley


Air quality and Health affects

Ozone is a molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms. Despite its benefits in the upper atmosphere as a shield to harmful UV radiation, it is a pollutant in lower atmosphere. Addressing such a study is important because ozone is damaging to plants and poses certain health risks to humans. Such risks include lung inflammation, lung diseases, premature death, heart attack, and stunting the plant growth.


What affects the air quality?

There are three components to look at: temperature, wind, and pressure.

William M. Connolley: the image of atmosphere pressure pattern

1) Temperature has a significant relationship with the production of ozone. Ozone is generated by a chemical reaction and the rate of this reaction is temperature dependant. Thus, higher temperatures equate to abundance in ozone.

 2) The wind is what mixes the atmosphere. Mixing causes dilution and as a result, lowers the amount of pollution.

 3) In summer, a high pressure system develops in the Lower Fraser Valley. High pressure makes the atmosphere heavy, resulting in the sinking of the whole atmosphere. This sinking then causes the increase in temperature with its height and the vertical mixing is reduced.

 High Temperature + Light Wind + High Pressure System

= Pollution level ↑

How was the study conducted?

In order to analyze the climate pattern, Dr. Steyn used different statistical techniques and the following podcast will explain the specific tools used to analyze the pressure patterns such as:

–       Canadian Climate Model

–       Program for atmospheric pressure pattern

–       Empirical orthogonal function (EOF) decomposition

–       Clustering (grouping of pressure patterns in six dimensions)

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Dr. Steyn concluded that in the future, the weather types are going to be the same while the temperature will be warmer due to global warming. In other words, global warming is the main factor in increasing ozone level.

 We thank Dr. Steyn for giving us an interview and explaining his research. We also would like to thank our SCIE 300 instructors for designing the science outreach project.


Will this New Drug End the Obesity Epidemic?

Posted: November 14th, 2011, by kennyc

Orlistat. Sibutramine. Rimonabant. Metformin. Exenatide. Pramlintide. These are the six main anti-obesity drugs that are prescribed to patients suffering from morbid obesity. The reason these names are not better known is because of the side of effects that each of these drugs possess. Only in a last ditch effort, are these drugs prescribed, where the benefits outweigh the potential side effects.

Red Pill or Blue Pill?

For example, the use of Sibutramine, a now withdrawn drug, resulted in higher blood pressure, higher incidence of strokes and heart attacks, and even seizures.  What is worrying is that it was recently withdrawn in 2010.  This speaks volumes on the now-prescribed weight-loss drugs, all of which possess side-effects of their own, but only serve to suppress appetite or increase metabolism.

Adipotide, the potential cure

Fortunately, another drug is now posed to join the fray.  Adipotide, an experimental drug, has recently been tested on obese rhesus monkeys by a team of scientists at the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Centre.  This new drug acts on white adipose tissue, the unhealthy type of fat that is found under the skin and engulfing the abdomen, and is also a predictor of mortality.


Adipotide destroys the blood supply of the white adipose tissue.  With the use of a homing agent, the drug binds to a protein on the white adipose tissue, and uses a synthetic peptide to trigger cell death.  The fat cells, having lost their blood supply, are then reabsorbed and metabolized.  This is completely different from the six above-mentioned drugs, which indirectly control obesity by suppressing appetite, while Adipotide attacks the problem directly by cell death.

Fat Monkey

Overweight Primate


The obese monkeys that were administered Adipotide lost on average 11 percent of their body weight, lowering their body mass index (BMI) and abdominal circumference (waistline) as well.  The rhesus monkeys that were in shape did not lose any weight, demonstrating that the drug only has an effect on obese subjects.  Only one side effect was noted for the kidneys, which was said to be dose-dependent, predictable, and reversible.  Furthermore, the monkeys did not experience any nausea or food avoidance. A prior study testing Adipotide on obese mice resulted in 30 percent weight loss.

Fat Rat

Fat Rat


Anti-obesity drugs that are developed to work on rodents tend to fail when administered to primates, due to the vast differences in metabolism and control of appetite.  With Adipotide’s stellar results, the team of scientists are preparing for a 28 day clinical trial on obese prostate cancer patients, seeking to improve their condition through weight loss and reduction of the associated health risks that come with obesity.

Obesity rates

America: From Seam to Splitting Seam

Obesity is a serious condition, especially in the United States, with approximately 75 percent of Americans overweight or obese.  It increases the possibility of breast, ovarian, prostate, and colon cancer, and diabetes.  Furthermore, it has been cited as a contributing factor for up to 400,000 deaths in the United States per year.  One problem lies in the terminology used in the explanation of Adipotide’s method of weight control: Cell death.  While it may sound worrisome to the uneducated, the fact that cell death occurs at a rate of 50 to 70 billion cells per day in the average human adult should settle the uneasiness that comes with the word “death”.  With the advent of Adipotide, can the obesity epidemic be ended?


Karam, Jose A. (2009). Apoptosis in Carcinogenesis and Chemotherapy. Netherlands: Springer. ISBN 978-1-4020-9597-9.


Will the Polar Bear be our new national animal?

Posted: November 14th, 2011, by monicagrundmann

We are all familiar with the increasing global temperatures that encourage the melting of arctic ice but we don’t really think too much about how this will effect species other then ourselves. “Canada is home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population and we have a unique conservation responsibility to effectively care for them,” said Environment Minister Peter Kent. Best estimates suggest the polar bear population is approximately 15,000 in Canada. Polar bears have an important effect on the animal populations in the arctic. They provide food for animals lower on the food chain by leaving behind animals they have killed and not fully finished eating in addition to their bodies being food for animals once they have died.



CBC News Report



Polar bear waiting for a seal at the edge of a hole in the ice


Polar bears are the worlds largest carnivores and are also tied for the largest bears on Earth. Being carnivores in the arctic, their main diet consists of bearded and ringed seals.The polar bears hunt the seas in a very specific way. They find holes in the ice sheet where the seals would come up to breath. When a seal surfaces the polar bear can easily attack from above and haul the seal onto the sheet. Climate change is therefore causing the ice  area to shrink therefore causing a decrease in hunting ground for polar bears. The population is therefore decreasing as many polar bears cannot find enough food to survive or reproduce.

Polar bear perched on shrinking ice sheet

On Thursday November 10,2011, Environment Canada formally declared that polar bears were to be considered a “species of concern”. This decision was made through consultation with provincial and territorial governments, regional wildlife management boards, aboriginals and other stakeholders. The classification of “species of concern” is one level below a  threatened classification and two levels below an endangered classification under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Peter Kent continued to say, “Our government is demonstrating leadership in protecting this iconic species. Listing the polar bear under the Species at Risk Act represents an important contribution to protecting our environment and the animals that live in it.”


There is some controversy around this issue as not all were in favour of labelling the polar bears a “species of concern”. One argument is that there has not been enough surveying done to make these claims as the surveys conducted were both too infrequent and too limited.  Others feel that climate change is impacting many animal species but polar bears are very good at adapting so it may not be as large an impact as they’re predicting. Some claim the polar bear population is actually increasing but is simply changing location.


Aboriginal hunting polar bear

The government will be taking action by setting strict quotas on polar bear hunting. To exercise traditional rights aboriginals will be allowed to continue hunting the bears. Currently about 534 polar bears are killed annually in Canada, 325 of them by Inuit in Nunavut. To increase awareness of this issue a Conservative senator recently proposed that we replace the beaver with a polar bear as Canada’s national animal. I think that would be a simple way to get the issue out there and also polar bears make a much cooler national animal!






CBC National News:





A new ‘Sixth-Sense’

Posted: November 13th, 2011, by grace jauristo


A clip from the movie ‘Minority Report’ starring Tom Cruise. From YouTube


Have you ever seem the movie The Minority Report starring Tom Cruise? In the movie, he plays Chief John Anderton who uses out-of–this world technology to find criminals and solve ‘pre-crimes.’ Well, modern science is not that far off from making Chief Anderton’s technology a reality.


Human Interface?

Scientists are working hard on creating a ‘seamless’ sixth-sense connection with the world around us. Sound crazy? Well it’s not that far fetched. Science is actually on the verge of making it a reality; in fact it’s so close you can touch it, literally. The goal of this sixth-sense technology is to provide the user with easy access to relevant information from the user’s environment and allow him or her to interact with the data by the touch of a finger.  And the best part of this technology is that when it is fully operational it will cost no more than your average cell phone.


The system being demonstrated at a TED conference in 2009. (Eaton 2009)


Now, we’re not talking about a 50-year time schedule.  No, scientists are only a few years away from making this ‘movie dream’ a reality. Already, Microsoft has created surface-interface display technology that’s able to project information onto a surface for the user to interact with via their hands.


MIT student demonstrating the capabilities of their device. (Eaton 2009)


A recipe for success

Sounds pretty cool right? However, this still isn’t quite up to our ‘Tom Cruise’ standard.  At MIT, the fluid interface group at the University’s Media Lab is in the process of completing their version of this ‘sixth-sense’ technology. It combines a GPS-capable cell phone that gathers data from the environment, searches the Internet, collects the results and projects the information back to the user. It really is a “metadata system for real life” (Eaton 2009). The model includes a webcam, mirrors, a Smartphone and a pico-projector all hung together on a lanyard, and all available for a combined price of $350. Which makes this technology portable and able to work on any available surface, including your hands!

At MIT, the fluid interface group at the University’s Media Lab is in the process of completing their version of this ‘sixth-sense’ technology. It combines a GPS-capable cell phone that gathers data from the environment, searches the Internet, collects the results and projects the information back to the user. It really is a “metadata system for real life” (Eaton 2009). The model includes a webcam, mirrors, a Smartphone and a pico-projector all hung together on a lanyard, and all available for a combined price of $350. Therefore this technology is not only portable, but also able to work on any available surface, including your hands, and best of all it is affordable!


Demonstration on how the 'sixth-sense' can be used to view video clips related to certain newspaper articles. (photo credit: Sam Ogden)

'Sixth-sense' being used to sort and resize photos. (photo credit: Sam Ogden)












What does it do?

The system recognizes colored caps on the thumbs and index fingers via a webcam, and tracks their movements as a way of interacting with the projections. If this isn’t quite stylish enough for you, you could instead paint your nails in the same colors as the caps. Sounds all very techie, but what can it actually do? Well let’s say you’re taking a walk and want to take a photo, instead of taking out your camera, it’s as simple as making that iconic photo gesture with your hands and the interface will take the picture for you. Or, what if you want information on a book? A quick glance at the cover will give you a rating and a flip to the inside page will give you comments by critics. Even reading the newspaper becomes more exciting, with relevant video clips on the articles.

It’s even able to take social networking to the real world, literally. When meeting new people, the phone will look-up and project relevant information on them, including their name, contact details and tags associated with them from blog posts like this one. And it doesn’t stop there, how about finding out the time by simply drawing a circle on your wrist and having a watch projected? There are many more uses and applications for this sixth-sense technology and in a few years for the cost of a cell phone, we could all be as cool as Chief Anderton.

References and Further Reading:

Dr. Pattie Maes talks about the technology during TED talks

previous review made by Kit Eaton on Feb 5, 2009

More photos and video\’s on MIT\’s Sixth-Sense technology

Video on more applications of \’Sixth-Sense\’ (Really Worth A Look)







So is it too late?! Just ask David Suzuki…

Posted: November 13th, 2011, by Christina Thompson

On November 3rd, I witnessed one of the greatest examples of communicating science that I have ever seen. That evening, the University of British Columbia (UBC) was the lucky host to one of the most influential Canadians of our time: David Suzuki. He presented a lecture entitled “The Global Eco-crisis: Is it too late?”


David Suzuki, with a grayling from the Hart River, 2011. Photo by peelwatershed.

Who is David Suzuki?

If you have been living under a rock for the past few decades, you wouldn’t know that David Suzuki is one of the most well-known activists for reversing climate change, writing many books and hosting several TV shows on the subject. Most notably, he hosted the Canadian TV series, “The Nature of Things.” In 1990, David Suzuki co-founded the “David Suzuki Foundation,” a non-profit organization, which focuses on sustainability and climate change.


As David Suzuki braced the speaking podium, I prepared myself to be changed.


Humans are unique

David Suzuki began to trace the origin of humans from our common ancestors in Africa to today. What made   humans unique, he claimed, was their foresight. That is, our innate ability to predict or plan the future. He   explained that humans moved from Africa to eventually cover the world. Using our foresight, we exploited the resources of every location, only to move on when those resources were depleted.


Laws that we CAN change

Dr. Suzuki went on to describe the so-called “laws” that we have imposed on society today, specifically, a “law” called capitalism. But, he said, “laws” like capitalism aren’t really laws at all but they are “nuts!” because we can change them. With capitalism, economists rule the world and they just don’t give a “shit” about our environment and what we do to it. It is time that we change these laws and take control back from the economists. To do so, we have to take back our government and make it more representative. Vote.


Stop the excuses!

Moving on to current efforts being made, David Suzuki claimed that our government is full of excuses. As an example, he discussed the carbon tax. In Canada, we claimed that our businesses couldn’t survive a $15/ton carbon tax. But in Sweden, their business are doing just fine with a $120/ton carbon tax. It is time that we stop making excuses and get to work.


Never too late

Drop in the bucket. Photo by theilr.


Inspiring us, David Suzuki concluded that it isn’t too late. We can save our environment but first, we have to take back our government and the only way to do that is to vote. You may just feel like a drop in a bucket but he reminded us, with enough drops, we can fill the bucket.

From this lecture, I didn’t just learn that we need to change our environment but I also learned how to connect with your audience. David Suzuki kept the science basic and used language that was not only fun (there were more than a few swear words…) but easy to understand.

David Suzuki left me stirred.

After the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster- The Effect of Radiation on Human Health

Posted: November 11th, 2011, by mins


  There was Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on March 15th 2011 which released radioactive materials due to equipment failures and nuclear meltdown. Concern remains over the potential effect on human health from radiation leaks at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.


What is radiation? 

Thinkstock: radiation sign

  Radiation is a process in which energetic particles or waves travel through a medium or space. The energy comes from a source and travels through space and may penetrate various materials. Iodine and cesium are examples of radioactive elements. There are two types: ionizing, and non-ionizing. Both types can be harmful to organisms while ionizing radiation is more harmful as it can cause DNA damage.

   We are all naturally exposed to background radiation from radon (Rn), colourless, odorless chemical gas found in soil, water and air.  We are also exposed to unnatural sources such as X-rays which deliver about 10days’ worth of naturally occurring radiation.



 Symptoms of radiation sickness occur when the body is damaged by a very large dose of radiation over a short period of time. The more radiation a person absorbs, the sicker one will get. The best way to prevent harm is to prevent exposure. The strength of the radiation itself and distance from it are key factors in the severity of radiation sickness. 

 Nausea and vomiting often begin within hours of exposure, followed by diarrhea, headaches and fever. Since radiation destroys infection-fighting white blood cells, the greatest short-term risk after exposure is infection and the spread of infectious diseases.


 Human impacts 

abcnews: radiation and the body

 Ionizing radiation damages the body’s internal chemistry. Our bodies are able to repair effects of radiation on tissues, but too much radiation can cause DNA damage that the body can’t repair, leading to cancer. 

Vulnerable areas include:

  • -Thyroid gland
  • -Bone marrow
  • -Cells lining the intestine and stomach

  Babies and young children are more sensitive to radiation exposure because their cells typically divide faster than adults; increasing their risk of developing a radiation-related cancer later in life.




  Drugs can stimulate the growth of white blood cells and help people fight off infections. Exposed individuals can also be given capsules containing a dye that binds to thallium and cesium and helps the body get rid of these radioactive elements.

 Potassium iodide tablets are often given out to people at risk of contamination. The compound prevents or reduces absorption of radioactive iodine, through the thyroid gland, which uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones. But potassium iodide cannot prevent radioactive iodine from entering elsewhere in the body and does not affect the absorption of other radioactive elements, such as cesium, which stays in organs, tissue and the environment much longer than iodine.

  We must watch out our nuclear plant cells since one disaster may cause series of problems. There are many nuclear plants that can potentially become  problems and we should find ways to minimize or avoid further disasters.

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