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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 3 | Mar. 4, 2004

In the News

Highlights of UBC Media Coverage in February 2004

Compiled by Brian Lin

Why Canadians are Healthier

An impressive array of comparative data shows that Canadians live longer and healthier lives than their neighbours south of the border. What's more, Canadians pay roughly half as much per capita -- $2,163 versus $4,887 in 2001 -- for the privilege.

Infant-mortality rates show striking differences between the United States and Canada, according to Clyde Hertzman, associate director of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at UBC.

To counter the argument that racial differences play a major role, Hertzman compared infant mortality for all Canadians with that for white Americans between 1970 and 1998. The white US infant mortality rate was roughly six deaths per 1,000 babies, compared to slightly more than five for Canadians.

B.C. Genome Scientists Pop the Cork on Wine Project

For centuries, winemakers have tested soil conditions and meticulously planned when to harvest to produce the perfect grape. Now scientists at UBC's Wine Research Centre will be part of the mix thanks to a $3.1-million grant from Genome Canada and Genome B.C. to sequence the genome of cabernet sauvignon grapes.

"The whole point is to build not just a high-quality wine, but a consistent high-quality wine," Steven Lund, an assistant professor in the agricultural sciences faculty told The Vancouver Sun. "The vintage is affected by the environment, but the genetic makeup is responding to the environment."

By sequencing the genes of the grape berry, researchers at hope to look at the pathways for compounds that contribute to the taste of wine.

Lund says the role of scientists is to work with viticulturalists, the people who plan, supervise and coordinate the growing of grapes for the production of wine.

"It's bringing 21st-century genomics to wine and what we call wine science."

Brain Research Facility Opens in Vancouver

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and UBC recently opened the $20 million New Brain Research Centre at UBC Hospital, where specialists will be trying to unlock the mysteries surrounding such neurological diseases as autism, Parkinson's disease and fetal alcohol syndrome.

"You've got people with skills that range from physics to chemistry to biology to engineering to medicine to anatomy," director Max Cynader told CBC Television, who adds that the formation of the centre comes at a crucial time because the number of people with brain disease is expected to triple in the next 20 years without new treatments.

Classtalk puts Damper on Classroom Noise

UBC researcher Murray Hodgson has designed a software program that will put a major damper on noise in the classroom.

The software, called ClassTalk, is the first of its kind in the world. It helps architects, engineers and acoustical consultants to build classrooms that help students learn and protect teachers from unnecessary voice strain.

Hodgson, an acoustics expert at UBC's Centre for Health and Environment Research who created the program, said that very little attention is being paid to the acoustics of classroom design, and that "designing the noise out of classrooms benefits both students and teachers."

The program takes into account the physical characteristics of a classroom, such as building materials, the number of windows, the texture of surfaces, lighting fixtures and fittings, all of which influence how a teacher's voice carries through the room and is heard by students.

Gut Reaction

That feeling in one's bones, according to UBC psychologist Ronald Rensink, can be mapped.

An associate professor in psychology and computer science at UBC, Rensink calls visual sensing without seeing "mindsight." He discovered the phenomenon when he was testing how quickly people can detect a visual change.

It is not some sort of supernatural sensory perception, Rensink is quick to point out. "It is completely natural."

And do personal experiences and prejudices play into our hunches? Yes and no, Rensink says. Personal experience plays a role. But we also receive cues "that we would not consciously see."

Oxygen Detected in Distant Solar System

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have for the first time detected oxygen and carbon in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.

The Hubble scientists cautioned that the elements are not signs of life, as the planet is a hot, gassy orb with surface temperatures of about 1,000C.

UBC astronomy professor Jaymie Matthews told The National Post that the detection of oxygen is not particularly surprising, but is important as another step in learning about far-off solar systems.

"The physical conditions of this planet are unlike any planet we've ever studied," he said. Known as HD 209458b, the planet is similar in mass to Jupiter, but orbits its parent star every four days at a distance of only seven million kilometres. Earth is about 150 million kilometres from the sun.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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