UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 3 | Mar.
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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.