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[ McGill Chapter ]

Azfan Jaffeer / Committee Chair Rachael Kim / Chapter Editor-in-Chief David Bailey / Publications Director Ayad Ali / VP Content Krishanth Manokaran / VP Content Jennifer Qian / VP External Jackie Lam / VP Internal Ellsworth Bell / Editor Shirely Guan / Editor Megumi Mori / Editor Piravena Selvakumar / Editor Veronica Yuk / Editor

[ Contributors ]

Crystal Chen Roupen Djinbachian Gary Huang Surabhi Joshi Manosij Majumdar Vasily Rassokhin Mojtaba Vaezi Zachary Zoldan

[ Advisory Board ] David Lowther

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CONTENTS Drive or Be Driven: Google’s Driverless Car

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Why Yes, Your Child Should Learn Chemistry

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A New “Super Earth” discovered by NASA 6 Q&A with NSERC President Suzanne Fortier Embracing Our Cosmic Insignificance

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Cracking the Secret to Productivity 11 NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity: A feat of engineering 12 Q&A: Genspace 14 The Fight Against Bacteria in Surgery 16 7 Reasons Why Linux Rocks 18 McGill IEEE Student Branch 20 Space tourism close to becoming a reality

[ Technophilic Magazine Inc. ] Robert Aboukhalil / Editor-in-Chief Daisy Daivasagaya / Executive Editor Jimmy E. Chan / Business Development

Technophilic is published by Technophilic Magazine Inc. every semester for McGill’s Engineering Undergraduate Society. The opinions expressed herein only reflect the opinions of their respective authors. All articles here are licensed under the Creative Commons License. ISSN 1925-816X.

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TECHNOLOGY

Drive or Be Driven: Google’s Driverless Car by Zachary Zoldan

enewsautocar.com

It’s a sunny day in southern California, and Steve Mahan decides to go for a drive with a few friends. He jumps in the driver’s seat, sets off to a nearby Taco Bell, picks up some lunch and drives home. All appears to be normal until you consider the fact that Mahan isn’t legally allowed to drive. The reason why Mahan doesn’t have a license is neither because he has racked up too many DUI convictions, nor because he hasn’t taken the necessary courses and the driving exams. The simple fact is that Mahan has lost 95% of his vision; he is legally blind and barred from driving. But none of this matters since the car he is driving is a highly modified Toyota Prius sporting over $150,000 in radar and GPS equipment as well as several Google decals.

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The Google driverless car program has 10 cars in its arsenal; most of which are hybrids because of their computer controlled critical drive train systems, making computer integration simpler. As of August 2012, Google’s fleet has collectively logged over 500,000 accident free and autonomous kilometers. Although Google hasn’t disclosed all the systems it employs to keep its cars running smoothly, the corporation has mentioned that it uses a $70,000 laser-radar (LIDAR) system. This equipment is mounted on the roof to detect obstacles around the car to create a highly accurate 3-D map of its current surroundings.

Four additional radars are installed at the front, at the back and on each side of the car to monitor the driving environment. John Maddox, an official of the Na- Google’s system also tional Transportation Safety Board relies on its detailed of the route as a (NTSB), estimates that 93% of all map complement to a GPS road accidents are caused by the system since the latter driver. By automating many critic- alone would be several meters off. Gooal driving tasks, it should be pos- gle’s driverless cars are even programmed to sible to make cars safer. » adapt to the real world

conditions at four-way intersections and the attitudes of other motorists. Last week, Anthony Levandowski, the project manager of Google’s driverless car program, stated that his team plans to release the technology to the general public in the next five years. Whether Google releases a full turnkey system or only the software has yet to be determined. Google’s research raises an important point; this point, which many automakers know already, is the most dangerous component of any car lies between the seat and the steering wheel – the driver. John Maddox, an official of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), estimates that 93% of all road accidents are caused by the driver. By automating many critical driving tasks, it should be possible to make cars safer. The overall safety of any car is not only determined by its crash test ratings, but also any additional driver assist systems, such as traction control and ABS (anti-lock braking system). Both of these systems are very effective; a NTSB study found that ABS systems reduced stopping distance by up to 22% on loose surfaces. This is the difference between a close call and a trip to the emergency room. Most luxury automakers now offer additional


4 driver assist systems such as adaptive cruise control which employs front-mounted radar to read the distance of the car ahead of you, telling the car to brake automatically should you get too close. Nearly all adaptive cruise control systems only work on the highway, and above a speed of around 60 km/h. When the car drops below that speed, manual intervention is needed to prevent a collision. Volvo recently went a step further than this, equipping their high-end cars with a system that brakes automatically to avoid collisions even at a lower speed, known as “city safety”. Unlike most adaptive cruise control systems, city safety is primarily used when driving around town. Should the driver fail to respond when presented with a stationary obstacle blocking the car’s path, the system automatically deactivates the throttle and applies the brakes, avoiding a potential collision. Don’t be too impressed yet the aforementioned systems are just a start. As technology improves and costs decline, we should expect to see further shifts towards automation in vehicles. In ten years, Volvo hopes to bring to market a system that allows cars to electronically “join” a convoy on the highway. A manually-driven large truck housed with necessary sensors, wireless transmitters and computing equipment acts as the leader of the convoy. The cars in tow will automatically follow at a uniform distance and all brake when the leader stops. Since the cars can follow closer to each other than currently allowed, Volvo estimates a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption as well as the obvious safety benefits. Recently, Volvo tested their system on a 125 km long highway drive in Spain, where it performed bril-

liantly. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, driverless cars will be in the hands of consumers within the next 20 to 30 years. This represents an invaluable breakthrough for people like Steve Mahan, who have completely lost the ability to drive. Not to mention the countless lives saved through the elimination of driver error on our roads. As an aspiring electrical engineer, I’m supposed to be excited about these technological advancements. I’m supposed to be working towards developing new software and advanced sensing equipment to make automation more user-friendly. I’m supposed to be dreaming of a year when we all get into our own driverless cars and are whisked away to our destinations without any effort. The truth is, however, I’m dreading the day when the driverless cars take over allowing me to spend my commute surfing Facebook instead of being physically involved with the sport of driving. At the core of a proper driving experience, I believe that there is intensely liberating and gratifying sensation. Case in point – I used to own an old, beat up, late 80’s Jaguar sedan. It didn’t have a GPS system, iPod connectivity, any form of traction control or ABS. It did, however, teach me more about car control and vehicle dynamics than any amount of electronic assistance could have done. Cars today simply can’t teach us such a lesson. Even at the risk of sounding too philosophical, I’d like to leave you with the following: Driving was and still is an intricate part of the human experience. As Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, so go out and embrace the sport of driving while it’s still possible ■

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Why Yes, Your Child Should Learn Chemistry by Manosij Majumdar

An article in the Washington Post by David Bernstein asks why his son, fifteen, is being taught chemistry in high school when it is not mandated by the state and is not likely to lead to a career as a scientist for his son, who shows little interest or faculty in chemistry. The question is a valid one. The conclusions Mr. Bernstein drives himself to are less so. Mr. Bernstein is an executive at a non-profit organization and should be familiar with the folly of assaying the worth of an activity solely by its ability to earn a profit. My first defence of chemistry would also serve just as well as a defence of literature, mathematics, economics or even Mr Bernstein’s own subject, philosophy.

Let us assume that Mr. Bernstein is right, and his son will not engage with chemistry in a professional context. Would he, as a citizen and a consumer, still be better equipped for life without a working knowledge of chemistry? Sooner or later he will face an issue where chemistry will come into play: chemical and radioactive contaminants, nutrition, toxins, climate change, water and air quality: all of these are issues which a voter or a buyer might need to grapple with at some point in their lives, and where more than a vague familiarity with chemistry would be helpful.

I should imagine so. Yes, chemistry is a challenging subject, in that it does not yield without some sincere effort. They all are. Physics, biology, geology, mathematics, computer science, you name it. However, Mr. Bernstein is amiss to think that this alone constitutes some sort of justification as to why his son should not be required to educate himself about the way in which matter interacts in the universe around him.

Each field of knowledge ultimately aims to explain and explore either humanity or the context in which human affairs occur. Chemistry is part of that. To not know chemistry is to not know the universe one Difficulty alone does not prove a subinhabits. That is not a place any educated ject’s unfitness for study; nor does being inperson should be comfortable with. While in A scientifically-illiterate constituency teresting earn it a place in the curriculum. As university, I was frustrated and annoyed by leads to misconceptions that range from the someone whose own high school experience students who insisted that isn’t too distant, I put it to him that subjects such as poetry, polare not always the best I would have jettisoned some parts adolescents itics and philosophy alone judge of what a complete education constituted a true education, of my own syllabi quite gleefully, is. and what scientists and enbut in retrospect, I am better off for gineers were engaged in was I would have jettisoned some parts of mere training for a trade, a not having been able to do so. » my own syllabi quite gleefully, but in bourgeois affair pretending retrospect, I am better off for not havto be an intellectual pursuit. amusing (‘‘contains no chemicals’’ – so what ing been able to do so.

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May I now retort that an education that omits chemistry, of all things, may best be called inadequate if one is being generous, and not much of an education at all if one is being frank. The early philosophers spent their lives trying to unravel the workings of the natural world around them; we have the good fortune of being born in a time when we can know most of those answers from simply opening a book. Seen in the context of history, this is a staggering privilege. Mr. Bernstein says that his son is unlikely to become a chemist or a chemical engineer and would be better served by learning oratory or music (delivered with an idiotic remark suggesting that those of us who were busy studying chemistry would not understand the economic concept of ‘opportunity cost’).

is it made of, then?), to the frustrating (the insistence that ‘natural’ anything is better than ‘artificial’) to the seriously consequential (public opinion about energy policy, climate change, genetically-modified foods, or even vaccination). And what if he were to find himself in a position of influence and as utterly lost as Yes, Minister’s Jim Hacker? This argument applies to any science one can think of. Would an electorate that did not panic and stampede at phrases like ‘Frankenstein food’ be better at recognizing the merits of genetically modified organisms? Would that same electorate recognize the differences between various designs and generations of atomic power plants instead of running scared at the very sound of the word ‘nuclear’? Would it be less willing to accept pseudoscientific bases for justifying racism, sexism and homophobia?

In arguing otherwise, that teenagers ought to be allowed to self-specialize at an age when they should be acquiring a holistic view of the world and all that’s in it, Mr. Bernstein comes off as little more than a parent disgruntled at his own somewhat pitiable inability to help his son with grade school homework without the aid of a tutor, and wishing the world to mould to his little snowflake’s needs and allow him to pick easy, immediate pickings than challenge him to push his limits and strive for something difficult yet richly rewarding ■

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Check out more of Manosij’s writing at technophilicmag.com


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ASTRONOMY

A New “Super Earth” discovered by NASA by Krishanth Manokaran

NASA.GOV

Project scientists at the Kepler Space Mission have found a total of 461 new planet candidates as of 2013 and one in particular, KOI-172.02, has been described as the most similar to our home planet yet. KOI-172.02, which stands for Kepler Object of Interest, is a super Earth-size planet candidate, meaning it has a radius 1.5-2 times the size of the Earth. While that may seem insignificant, it means that its mass is much more than that of the Earth, resulting in different properties such as a thicker gaseous atmosphere says Dr. Steve Howell, Deputy Project Scientist of the Kepler Mission at Ames. The Kepler Mission, launched by NASA in March 2009, was specifically designed to

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I think in the next couple of years, Kepler will start providing many more planets around stars like the sun that are much more like the earth », says Dr. Howell.

survey a portion in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy to discover Earthsized planets near the habitable zone, and to determine realistically how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets [1]. The habitable zone, as Dr. Howell describes, is the region around a star where water might exist on the surface of a planet which provide favorable conditions for life. The Kepler Spacecraft and photometer, used to observe the stars, orbits the sun each year trailing behind the Earth. As of late, the Kepler Spacecraft has found over 2,500 potential planets [2]. The Kepler mission is designed to detect or-

biting planets as they pass in front of their stars, causing a small decrease in the star’s brightness. Kepler does this by looking at just one large region of the Milky Way in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra [3]. This region of space was picked due to certain limiting constraints; an environment rich in stars as well as one that can be continuously viewed and monitored throughout the mission “without obstruction of the Sun to the regions at any point of the spacecraft’s orbit”, says Dr. Howell. Over the course of the mission, the spacecraft will measure the variations in bright-


ness (using the photometer) of 150,000 stars every 30 minutes, searching for tiny dips in the light output that occurs whenever a potential planet passes or “transits” in front of its star. This is called the “transit method” and is Kepler’s principal method in finding planets. Depending on the planet’s orbit and the type of star it orbits, this effect can last anywhere between an hour to about half a day. [4] Transits are only seen when a star’s planetary system is perfectly aligned with our line of sight explained Dr. Howell, “so if you believe that all the orbits are all randomly distributed, as it should be, then Kepler – even if every star had a planet – would only see 1% of those stars having transits.” Regardless, the data received from the spacecraft is extensive in its own merit. More than 13,000 transit-like signals were analyzed and potential new planets were identified [5]. Since not all variations in brightness necessarily represent a transit of a potential planet, there exist false positives, for example stars much like our Sun can vary in brightness themselves. Such temporary phenomenon include ‘Sunspots’ which create visible dark spots caused by intense magnetic activity [6]. For that reason, the discovery of a planet is confirmed by observing a minimum of three transits. But why do three transits constitute a candidate planet? Dr. Alan Gould, co-investigator for the Kepler Mission, explained the need for three transits through an email interview with Technophilic: This would mean planets that are Earth-like and orbit around a star like our sun (every year) would take at least 3 years to get the three transits needed to be confirmed by Kepler to be a candidate planet. Once the planet candidate has been discovered, it is then given the designation of KOI (Kepler Object of Interest). In terms of our new Super-Earth candidate KOI-172.02, it was the 172nd candidate in their running list of candidates to see if it really is a planet and has the right kind of star. For the KOI-172.02 candidate in particular, the 4 transit signals acquired by Kepler indicate that the planet orbits its star around every 243 days. We also know a lot about the star which KOI-172.02 orbits, which is very similar to our sun, but WIRED.CO.UK slightly smaller and colder.

“Three transits are required for planet discovery by the transit method mainly because that is the minimum to assure that there is in fact a planet. One transit gives only the barest indication that a planet exists and an extremely rough idea at best of what the period of the planet might be. Two transits would pinpoint the period of the planet pretty precisely, by virtue of the time between transits, and allow accurate prediction of when the next transit is expected to occur. Actual observation of the 3rd transit confirms the prediction and hence helps confirm the planet discovery.”

The nominal mission of Kepler was 3.5 years, ending last October and is currently in what NASA calls the extended mission – which will last for another 2 or 3 years. “But I think in the next couple of years, Kepler will start providing many more planets around stars like the sun that are much more like the earth”, says Dr. Howell ■

REFERENCES: 1. kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/QuickGuide/ 2. kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/ 3. spaceanswers.com/astronomy/370/earth-2-0/ 4. kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/fop/ 5. cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/01/11/earth-exoplanet-nasa.html 6. solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/feature1.shtml


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UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH

Q&A with NSERC President Suzanne Fortier Since 2006, Dr. Suzanne Fortier has served as the President of NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council). After completing her BSc and PhD in protein crystallography at McGill University, she held multiple senior research and administrative positions at Queen’s University, including Dean and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Vice-Principal (Research) and Vice-Principal (Academic). She has recently been appointed the next Principal of McGill starting September 2013. Dr. Fortier is also an established researcher and active advocate of research education for youth. During her last visit to the 2013 Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium, we had a chance to speak with her about women in engineering and the future of science. What advice would you give students ment. You think about a problem and make undertaking the NSERC award this sum- a hypothesis, so you devise an experiment to test it. Sometimes the experiment doesn’t For the undergraduate program, we want to mer? yield the data that you hoped for and you give students a chance early on to experience what research might look like - either First of all, I’d say to be really engaged as a think ‘ah, this is not good’. It is quite disresearch in a university or in an industrial member of the team, because that’s what appointing, but very successful researchers laboratory. One of the challenges we have in a lot of the research programs are about – are those who are able to face this situation this country is that we do not have a very being part of the group of people who are and regain their motivation fast. They then high number of students at the graduate pursuing some areas of knowledge together. start thinking about it again. That is part of level in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Take advantage of being part of this team: pursuing new knowledge. You’ll not always compared to other countries. Canada lags talk with the members, see how their ex- be right. I remember reading Francis Crick, way behind in graduate programs, so one of perience is, and get advice from them. Any who wrote a book about his life in research. It’s called What Mad Pursuit. Now, Francis Crick is a Nobel laureate for the discovery of In science, you have this incredible puzzle out the DNA structure. He attributed his success there. We’re trying to get a clear picture of how our in part to his fertile mind. He always had new universe works. As a person involved in research, ideas and he says that some of them were in fact not really good. But it is that ability you have the opportunity to add one more piece to be… What does NSERC offers to students?

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to the puzzle. Even if it’s just a small piece, it’s important. »

the intents of the program is to give people a chance to see what research would look like and whether they would be interested in pursuing research in the future. [Research] is an area of work that is unique and very privileged because you really have an opportunity to learn constantly. It’s exciting to be the person advancing the knowledge. And I always say, there is very little we actually know about our world. In a way, in science, you have this incredible puzzle out there. We’re trying to get a clear picture of how our universe works. As a person involved in research, you have the opportunity to add one more piece to the puzzle. Even if it’s just a small piece, it’s important. Every small addition of knowledge is an important piece in this incredible puzzle, which is our world.

guidance they can give you is very important. Sometimes people think of a researcher as a person isolated in his/her little corner, but that is not what it is like in almost all of the research areas. Most people are part of teams, working with others. Secondly, it is also important to always give your best. You want your team members to give their best, and you have to make the same commitment yourself. The third thing is to persevere - whenever you do something that is exploratory, you’re looking for something new, some knowledge that nobody has in the world yet, and that’s fantastic, but it’s not an easy path. And along this path, you’ll have wonderful discoveries that will be exciting but you’ll also have some disappoint-

...constantly thinking? Yes. I think that’s an important but tough lesson to learn as you pursue research. We rarely talk about this, but even negative results are important in science, because they do contribute to learning. When an hypothesis doesn’t turn out to be correct, it can add substantially to your knowledge. I noticed that you will be giving the closing remarks at ‘Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium.’ What do you think about the female role in these fields? There are certainly more women in the fields of sciences and engineering than 50 years ago. We made tremendous progress so far, but I think there still are not enough women looking at science and engineering as areas where their efforts and hard work can turn


into a career. So we need to continue to work remember when Dorothy Hodgkin came to visit our lab- and this is a Nobel Prize winner. on that. Imagine that she comes to your lab and sits Who is the female scientist you look up to by your chair to ask you what you are doing. There were many inspiring women whom in particular? I had the opportunity to meet. I say today, I think you don’t notice them sometimes I look a lot at women that are part of our but it’s only afterwards that you realize that world, women that we support with NSERC. some people were your role models. The one very important to me was the Teaching As- They are role models in different ways. I look sistant in my first course in crystallography. at what they are doing – their incredible She was a young graduate student. I looked contributions, their energy, their ideas, their at her, and I thought ‘I could be that’. It was creativity, their ability to be great project really inspiring for me as an undergrad to managers – they are role models in that they inspire me about my role at NSERC, because have this woman as my TA. part of my role at NSERC is to make sure that That’s something I’ve never heard before, these people are successful. It’s an inspirabecause people often mention their pro- tion for me to see these extremely successful and accomplished women. I often think, “I fessors. have the privilege of having a great responAt that time, professors were too far from sibility”, which is to support them. me, and she was closer in age. After that I had a professor who was my thesis super- What does the future hold for scientists? visor, a woman who was one of the giants in Are there particularly promising areas? crystallography. In fact, crystallography had There is so much more to discover and to early on extremely accomplished women. I learn, but also some important challenges

that we need to face as citizens of the same planet. Today, there is hardly any area that is not holding a lot of promise, because when you look at how you will either pursue a great opportunity or a challenge, you realize that you need people with different expertise. Something that is important to realize is the incredible work that’s being done by engineers, particularly in advancing the technology to lead discoveries in our worlds. Similarly, I told you that I’m a crystallographer; a few years ago, a Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded for the discovery of the structure of the ribosome. What made the discovery of the structure of the ribosome at a very high resolution level possible was all the technology that had been developed in detection, in synchrotron, radiation, in computing, and so on. It’s always fantastic for me to see this incredible symbiosis between technology and discovery ■


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Embracing Our Cosmic Insignificance by Surabhi Joshi

Life. Some find it too short. Others find it too long. Others find it too long and intentionally shorten their life story. One thing is certain about living – it eventually ends. The story of every fruit fly, beggar, king, janitor, professor, singer, barbaric STM official (with a passion for knitting and mortal combat), actor, politician (the latter two usually have a lot in common) usually doesn’t have a happy ending. We all perish. We also perish only once. Life, spanning an average of 67.2 years, might seem too short to have any meaning. This insignificance has bothered several of us. The unbearable lightness of being by Milan Kundera expresses this sentiment: our single and short life implies that it can be taken lightly; however, the fact that we are given just one life – no dress rehearsals, no second chances – makes this lightness unbearable.

some occasion today, your presence on the planet testifies to the role luck has played in your past

Carl Sagan also offers this cosmic perspective which helps us view our beloved earth as a ‘pale blue dot’. When we adopt this vision, nationalism, patriotism, and other dangerous words, which usually end in –ism or –ion, suddenly lose their importance. InRabindranath Tagore held a different view. stead, according to Carl Sagan, it highlights He believed that “if you are not happy just at the importance of ‘dealing more kindly with the mere fact that you exist, then you don’t one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.’

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Our single and short life implies that it can be taken lightly; however, the fact that we are given just one life—no dress rehearsals, no second chances—makes this lightness unbearable. »

deserve to exist.” Kundera’s lightness of being from the cosmic point of view proves to be liberating and a little less unbearable because it reminds us how fortunate we are for our existence. So let’s take a step, or rather, several steps back and examine our current position. In doing so, we find what is perhaps best said by Daniel Dennett:

Every living thing is, from the cosmic perspective, incredibly lucky simply to be alive. Most, 90 percent and more, of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without viable offspring, but not a single one of your ancestors, going back to the dawn of life on Earth, suffered that normal misfortune. You spring from an unbroken line of winners going back millions of generations, and those winners were, in every generation, the luckiest of the lucky, one out of a thousand or even a million. So however unlucky you may be on

Neil Degrasse Tyson, the Carl Sagan of today, shares the same opinion. He argues that visiting Sagan’s and Tyson’s cosmic vantage point renders the constant conflicts in the name of religion and boundaries silly, immature and egoistic. This is very similar to an adult (a word to which we generously associate the labels - grown-up and matured) who treats a child’s complaints about broken toys and bruised knees (all traumatic experiences to a kid) as small problems. Thus, a crash course in astronomy is needed at every level. As students, it should inspire us to spend less time on our cell phones and social media sites. As researchers, it should broaden our minds, develop our attitudes towards learning and reduce unattractive competitiveness over journal names with the number of papers one has published in comparison to his/her neighbor. Finally, as human beings, it should humble us down so that we can live up to our scientific name (homo sapiens - wise men). Astronomy is unfortunately and unfairly considered ‘useless’ compared to other sciences. However, it has the power to expand

our view; reform our character and behaviour towards each other and the world we live in. Astronomy can lower the omnipresent egoistic sentiments related to social status, race, culture, and language, which is desperately needed here in Quebec. Lessons learnt through astronomy are capable of maturing up the mindset of any individual, family, institution, corporation, and country. Anyone who relishes the cosmic outlook will have qualities that will make him/her a better policy maker. They will probably suggest replacing the bibles in the motel rooms of The United States of America with a picture of the universe and an arrow showing where we are and truly develop this fraction of an iota of a crumb of a grain of the universe which we all call home. At last, a few words of the late Steve Jobs further illustrate how his mortality influenced his thoughts: ‘Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose’. These are excellent words from an undeniably innovative man who nevertheless used his cosmic lessons very selectively, although Chinese workers and Emily Post will probably agree that he should have been more humane with his actions. That being said, dear reader, I hope your unbearably light life is as long as humanely possible with plenty of light for you and for others ■ FURTHER READING: • Freedom Evolves by Daniel Denett • Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan

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Check out more of Surabhi’s writing on technophilicmag.com


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Cracking the Secret to Productivity by Gary Huang

mulas meant. Numerous studies have also shown that there is a concept called “egodepletion” which states that our willpower is limited and we are thus unable to rely on the idea of “willing” something to happen just by thinking about it. Instead, we tend to spend our time in small meaningless tasks such as playing Tetris or going on Facebook.

Willpower is not enough. This may be a scary thought, but it is actually quite true. So should we give up on being productive now and just go frolic in the snow while the winter season is here? According

So how do we overcome this intrinsic barrier which prevents us to be productive? The first thing that should be done is to “get started.” Often the most difficult part of a task is starting on it; however, once you do begin, there is a mechanism in the brain called the Zeigarnik Effect. It seems that it is human nature to finish what we start and if we do not finish the task, we experience dissonance and discomfort. The Zeigarnik Effect is almost like there is someone poking your brain, telling you to finish a task you have started previously and will not stop poking unless you get back to it. Now that we have finally started, how should we maintain focus and complete the task at hand? Research from the Federal Aviation Administration has revealed that taking breaks around 15 to 20 minutes in between long work sessions around 90 minutes resulted in a 16% increase in awareness and focus as well as the maintenance of higher levels of energy throughout the day. Therefore, it appears that it is more effective taking breaks in between your work sessions instead of cramming everything into one long 9 hour study session before your midterms.

to scientific research done by Janet Polivy and Kenneth McGraw, we often tend to project the thought of the most difficult parts of a task we are trying to achieve, such as reading through hundreds of pages of our course pack, memorizing difficult pathways in biochemistry, and understanding exactly what that page of complicated physics for-

How do we stay disciplined? The first step to improving your productivity habits is to create schedules and deadlines. These deadlines may not necessarily be the ones imposed by your professor, but rather ones throughout the day to maintain your productive progress. Studies conducted by Dan Ariely et al. revealed that university students who imposed deadlines for themselves performed far better and more consistently in school than those who did not. Furthermore, Ariely et al. also found that those students who gave themselves too much time to complete a task before their generous deadline performed similarly to those who did not set a deadline at all.

flickr.com/alt1040/11220515

Everyone wants to be productive, whether it may be studying, working, more studying, or even more studying. I would like to emphasize the fact that studying is something on every university student’s mind nowadays with midterm season creeping in. However, what is the true secret to being productive? The problem most of us have is not a lack of motivation to be productive, but rather, the need to stay disciplined and maintain productivity on a daily basis. In this article, we will explore the many aspects of the thoughts in our minds and attempt to solve this age-old problem of productivity.

Finally, set an accountability chart for yourself. An accountability chart is used to track your progress throughout the day and match it with your set deadlines. Tracking your progress using this method will increase selfcontrol because it allows you to see the work you have actually accomplished versus the over- or under-estimation of the work you think you have accomplished. This strategy also allows you to stop engaging in “robot behavior” which can actually be counterintuitive if nothing is going in your brain while you are re-listening to that lecture you missed.

In conclusion, there are many aspects of productivity that we can understand and potentially overcome with the appropriate strategies. Understanding that willpower is simply not enough is the first step to a better and more productive life. Starting on the long journey ahead is important, because it allows your brain to urge you to complete the task that you left unfinished. Pacing yourself is also important, since no one wants to spend hours upon hours staring at a computer screen or a textbook. Finally, a word of advice is to stay disciplined by planning your day and tracking your progress throughout your completed tasks at hand. With these strategies in mind, perhaps the next time you have to study for a midterm you will not groan at the thought, but rather, approach the task in a positive and energetic manner! REFERENCES: • Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: selfcontrol by precommitment by Ariely and Wertenbroch.. • Ego depletion: is the active self a limited resource? by Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven and Tice. • Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement by Gollwitzer and Sheeran. • Undermining the Zeigarnik effect: Another hidden cost of reward by McGraw and Fiala. • Getting a bigger slice of the pie by Polivy, Herman and Deo.


NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity: A Feat of Engineering This picture was taken by Curiosity at Point Lake, Gale Crater, on Day 106 of its journey. The rover is a 900kg vehicle, the size of a small SUV. After a trip of 253.6 days, Curiosity landed on August 6 2012 with one mission: search for evidence of current or past conditions on Mars suitable for life. Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems


14

DIY BIOLOGY

Q&A with Genspace Co-founder Oliver Medvedik is a Co-founder, and the Director of Scientific Programs, at Genspace, a non-for-profit organization that aims to create a do-it-yourself biology hackerspace, where science enthusiasts can work on interesting side projects, and where the general public can attend classes to learn about the fundamentals of biology.

What is the most exciting project you have seen come out of Genspace?

What first got you into DIY Bio?

Did they?

In 2008, I started a lab here with my colleague Mitchell Joachim, called Bioworks Institute. It was a biodesign laboratory where we worked at the intersection of biotech and design. While I wanted to work on more biology-heavy project, Mitch was more interested in design projects.

They did! That’s because there’s a great need There is one exciting bio-art project done by for cheap space to do science. an artist here, Heather Dewey-Hagborg. She And they came in great quantity, which collected hair samples and cigarette buds in was impressive. We had a grand opening New York City from which she extracted DNA as a community lab in 2010, so we’ve been and sequenced. She needed to use Genspace for isolating DNA from samples and do opened for a little over two years. analysis later. Can members work on any projects? When she got the sequence data, she looked The project being worked on just needs to at indicators of eye color, hair color, ethnibe a safe project (biosafety level 1). Other city. Then she would make three dimensional than that, there are no requirements for the sculptures of what she thought the people project to make a revenue stream or have looked like. immense scientific merit.

But there was some overlap, and I thought it would be interesting to have a lab where we could work on mutual projects. We found a place here and we opened the lab. My initial goals were more focused on working on projects that may not fit in a traditional lab. What was the inspiration behind Genspace? Later, I met Nurit [Editor’s note: Nurit BarShai is Director of Cultural Programming] and she introduced me to other DIY Bio enthusiasts interested in working on biotechrelated projects, who later became the other co-founders.

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[Genspace is] essentially a community lab for anybody interested in using biotech for purposes of art, entrepreneurship and citizen science. »

They wanted to start a lab that was even broader and more open than Bioworks. Since I had this lab here, we decided to co-found How does Genspace compare to academic Genspace. labs? How would you describe Genspace? The difference between Genspace and acaIt’s essentially a community lab for anybody demic labs is that there is no one arching interested in using biotech for purposes of scientific project, there is no principal investigator of the lab that guides the direction of art, entrepreneurship and citizen science. the research. It’s also like a gym: once you become a memThe main similarity is that we’re always bers, you can go there anytime 24/7. scrambling for funding! Since this was new, at the beginning, we wondered: “if we build it, will they come?”

I thought it raised some really important issues about privacy. Although some areas have laws regarding how others can use that data, a lot of other places don’t have such laws. In the last issue of Technophilic, we interviewed Eric Schadt and he mentioned that the priority should be on ensuring no one can use your DNA data to make decisions. Would you agree with that? I agree with that 100%. I am a big proponent of privacy. And when it comes to information, I think it’s much more critical to put


WIRED.COM

laws in place to protect citizens from that search, but it cannot be used to hurt some- broader acceptance, more funding, and having more spaces like these available. one’s career or livelihood. data being misused. It’s almost impossible to have your med- What is the main audience of the courses It’s not even a matter of technology at this point, it’s a matter of access ■ ical and genetic data be completely locked you teach here? down, especially given the fact that we’re Everybody. Although interestingly, most of shedding cells constantly. the people taking courses have a profesBut we should make that data useless to sional degree in something else (software, somebody who wants to profit from it. finance, art, etc.), but are interested in learnRather than having penalties if you find out ing about biotech. someone’s information, it should be illegal for you rate someone’s insurance based on At this stage, I think most people are earthat data, or to discriminate candidates for ly adopters, but when would it come to a a job, for example. If an insurance company point where the general public can take knows that they can have the data but can- courses here on bio-tech? not use it, they will not go for it. Check out Genspace at Well, they can take the courses now! genspace.org Of course, medical data sharing is very important for the advancement of medical re- I think what’s holding us back right now is a

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16

The Fight Against Bacteria in Surgery by Crystal Chen

Modern day surgery is no doubt one of the most utilized methods in ridding the body of tumour cells. But with it comes immense prices: the first being the shock of the surgery itself, and second, the array of post-operative complications. Though patients can often recover from the shock of surgery, post-operative complications such as bacterial infections can often prove to be fatal. Clinical data suggest that the high rate of post-operative infections after cancer surgery may be increasing cancer recurrence, causing over 50% of patients to ultimately die from metastatic disease: a new type of cancer occurring at a different part of the body than before. For example, acute bacterial pneumonia arises in 15-25% of patients in the first week following lung cancer surgery, a period of time that coincides with a significant rise in circulating tumour cells, though the mechanism behind this is not yet clear. Two methods in the fight against bacteria infections in surgery will be discussed: prevention through surgical techniques and treatment through understanding of molecular mechanisms. Improving surgical techniques

personal.psu.edu/jel5/micro/art.htm

Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician best known for his discovery of the Germ Theory (see figure above). Semmelweis noticed a high incidence of post-delivery puerperal fever in his female patients. However, the group of women whose babies were delivered by midwives remained relatively healthy after delivery. Semmelweis later concluded that since physicians usually come directly from autopsies, the bacteria that remained on their hands is what caused

these complications. Surprisingly, this simple teria and cancer cells. concept of washing hands to prevent bacterial infection is what revolutionized surgery Discovery of Molecular Mechanisms Antiseptic surgery is based on the concept of preventing entrance of bacteria into surgical wounds. Surgeons have long been identifying the source of bacteria: on the surgical instruments, surgeon’s hands, patient’s clothing… anything that comes in contact with the wound. Unfortunately, these bacteria include some of the most common ones with the deadliest effects; among these are the gram-negative bacteria Escherichia coli and the gram-positive bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Toll Like Receptors (TLRs) are key players in the immune system. They are mainly found on the plasma membrane of a type of white blood cells called T-cells. A range of different TLRs bind to different bacterial antigens (see figure below). For example, when the bacterium E. coli invades the body, TLR4 recognizes the lipopolysaccharides (LPS) on the bacteria, triggering a signalling pathway that activates the T-cell, thereby activating the immune system in ridding the body of the bacteria.

One advance in surgical techniques is the invention of minimally invasive surgery. In contrast to open surgery, laparoscopic surgery allows the insertion of a thin tube called a laparoscope through a small one centimetre long incision. The laparoscope is usually connected to a video camera, allowing images of inside the body to be displayed on a monitor, thus guiding the surgeon through (see figure below). Not only does this profoto.internetara.com cedure provide minimal shock to the body, it also minimizes the size of the wound, pro- However, cancer cells have also adopted viding less opportunity for bacterial infec- this mechanism. Recent research has shown tion and a more cosmetically pleasing scar. that TLRs have also been identified on some cancer cells. When bacteria interact with the TLR on cancer cells, it triggers a signalling pathway that influences the cancer cells’ migratory and adhesion phenotypes. More specifically, bacteria makes cancer cells more capable of migrating to another part of the body with more nutrition, all the while rendering them competent of a stronger adhesion to that place. Therefore, even though most cancer cells can be removed when earhealthinformatics.wikispaces.com ly stage cancer patients undergo surgery, it is the leftover tumour cells that become much At the same time that techniques inside the more proficient in survival techniques, with operating room are improving, molecular the help of bacteria. mechanism are also being discovered, allowing pharmaceutical companies to design It is hoped that by inhibiting LPS-induced drugs that directly target interaction of bac- TLR4 signalling, we could improve thera-


peutic outcomes through preventing much of the cancer adhesion and metastasis. One laboratory technique employed to detect the adhesion phenotype is the extracellular matrix adhesion assay (see figure on right). Each well is first coated with extracellular matrix, such as collagen I, collagen IV, fibronectin, or laminin. The extracellular matrix contains chemoattractants that allow the adherence of cancer cells. Tumour cells

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The high rate of post-operative infections after cancer surgery may be increasing cancer recurrence Âť

as a negative control: when only cancer cells were added, very minimal adhesion was seen. When cancer cells were mixed with LPS from bacteria, there is a clear increase in the adhesive phenotype. Eritoran is a small molecule that acts as the competitive inhibitor of LPS; it binds to TLR4 but does not trigger a signaling pathway like LPS. When cancer cells were treated with LPS and eritoran, it was seen that their adhesive phenotype was greatly reduced to near-basal levels.

pre-stained using a fluorescent dye called CSFE (carboxyfluoresceinsuccinimidyl ester) Though many alternative methods are availso they may be visualized with a fluorescent able to us in the treatment of cancer, such as chemotherapy and the use of viruses capable of targeting tumour cells, surgery easily remains to be the most effective method of getting rid of a localized tumour. The fight against bacteria is only one of the many challenges that the field of surgery face today. Luckily, surgeons and researchers are working together to improve patient outcomes, providing novel ideas and innovative reJcggdb.jp/GlycoPOD search procedures that allow us to witness first-hand the fast-pace development of microscope (see figure below). Different conditions were performed in this medicine and its therapeutic effects â–

suspended in media are then seeded into each well and incubated for an hour to allow the adhesion process to take place. Each well is then washed in order to get rid of any non-attached cells. The cancer cells are experiment. The media condition was used


18

TECHNOLOGY

7 Reasons Why Linux Rocks by Vasily Rassokhin

With computers being such a big part of our lives today, it is important to make the right choices about how we use them. In 2011, a survey revealed that 71% of Canadian households have a desktop computer, so it is important to make the right choices about how we use them.

The interface between people and computers allow us to communicate with machines in an intuitive way. This is called the operating system, and it has revolutionized how humans interact with computers. Most users can be categorized as either Windows or Mac users, but there exists a third alternative. Linux is similar, yet different in a million ways from the other two Operating systems. Before going into the various reasons why you should try Linux, here are two reasons why you shouldn’t: 1. Gaming: Although more and more mainstream games are being developed for Linux, the video game market for Linux is pretty much limited to small indie games. So if you really care about being able to play the newest Call of Duty or Need for Speed, Linux is probably not for you. 2. Working with specific proprietary software: If you need to use programs like AutoCAD, Microsoft Office or Photoshop, count Linux out. Although many industry standard software programs have been developed for Linux (Matlab for example), the majority were not. There are, of course, alternative versions of these programs that exist for Linux. Libre Office is one such example, and it also happens to be absolutely free.

that Linux itself is actually a kernel, or, as one might put it, the brains of the operating system. It is mainly responsible for allocating memory and processing power to applications. It is basically a bridge between hardware and software on your PC. Hence, one does not typically “install Linux” on a computer, but instead one would install what’s called a Linux distribution, which is an operating system bundled with a desktop environment, data processing tools, and other additional components, which improve or add to the PC experience (but we will simply say Linux for simplicity). That being said, it goes without saying that distributions come in all flavours, which allows you to choose the distribution that meets your needs. Some popular distributions for be-

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ies in the start menu, so you don’t have to dig through hundreds of folders with confusing names. If you have too many windows open and hate sorting through the mess every time, you can take advantage of workspaces, which allow you to have several “desktops”. As an example, consider having a workspace with all your schoolwork related programs, and a second workspace where you have all your procrastination related stuff. By organizing these programs into workspaces you won’t need to worry about Facebook or Skype distracting you while you work! Another amazing thing about Linux is that it is a very light operating system. If you have an old computer which takes 15 minutes just to start Windows, consider installing Linux on it. Linux can run fast on

Linux and open source software have especially gained popularity among scientists and engineers. For instance, the Large Hadron Collider, a $10 billion physics project, runs completely on Linux. »

ginners are Ubuntu and Mint. If you want a smooth transition from your previous favorite OS, you could try Zorin (Windows look alike) or MacBuntu.

even the oldest computers and it won’t get slower as time goes by, as it is the case with other operating systems. Finally, because of how active the Linux community is, bugs or exploits never take long to get fixed. Chances are, if you report a bug in your distribution to the support system, you will be able to download a fix in the next week’s update.

If you are still interested, it is nice to have 2. Productivity: Although Linux can seem intimidating, many day-to-day tasks are you aboard. Here is a summary of some of actually much simpler and easier to carry the reasons why you might want to switch out, as opposed to in Windows or Mac. to Linux: For example, you can update all the software on your PC in a single click. In most 3. Free Software: Linux distributions don’t 1. Variety: Unlike Windows and OS X, a bare cost you a penny! All you need to do is distributions, the software installed on Linux operating system is not very useful download the desired Linux distribution, your PC is also neatly sorted in categorfor an average user. The reason for that is


burn it on a CD (or transfer it to a USB 5. Customization: If you are really picky about the default font on your desktop, key), and install it on your PC. Furtherthe size of window shadows, or the timemore, free software also has a different out before your taskbar auto-hides –Linux meaning. The short definition, as seen on is perfect for you. Visual customization is the Free Software Foundation, states that, only the tip of the iceberg. Among other “the users have the freedom to run, copy, things, you can change what your comdistribute, study, change and improve the puter does when it starts, who/what is software.” The main advantage of free allowed to read, modify or execute your software is that it is designed in the user’s files, and which system components are best interest; it will never steal your inforinstalled or enabled on your computer. mation without your permission, and if it does, it will warn you about it and the data will never be used for profit. Further- 6. Security: Not only is Linux amazing at securing your files and folders from other more, since everybody can look inside the users on your network (or the rest of the software, nobody will try to add malicious internet, for that matter) but because of or unwanted code, so you don’t have to how Linux is designed and because most worry about those annoying internet viruses out there are mostly targeted at toolbars anymore! Windows users, you won’t ever need to worry about viruses and other malicious 4. Automation: Have you ever found yoursoftware. self in a situation where you needed to do stupid and time consuming tasks, like backing up or renaming multiple files? In 7. Community and Support: If you are worried that installing a Linux distribution is Linux, such tasks (and more) can easily be equivalent to moving to a desert island, automated by script files. These files are without tools or human interaction, you essentially text files you can easily make are deeply mistaken. There are thousands (with a little programming knowledge) of guides, videos, websites and books and are especially useful for mass prosolely dedicated to helping others with cessing. So instead of manually doing an Linux. If you prefer help from a person, operation on each file one by one, you you can search your problem or ask for can set up a script to do a set of operhelp on a forum, chat or a question-anations on ALL the files in some directory, swer website (such as stack overflow). The or ALL the files matching a certain pattern Linux community is huge and growing, so (all the files with the .txt extension, for exyou don’t have to worry about not findample). Scripts allow you to mass execute ing any help. For major distributions it is the most basic commands with a file like also possible to file a ticket or ask for ofcopying, moving, renaming and modifyficial support, which you can usually find ing; while also allowing you to use any on the distribution’s website. The Linux other program installed on your Linux PC. community itself is made up of all kinds A good example of this is automating imof people from all around the world which age resizing with a program that can only means that you can be part of something resize one image at a time.

exciting and get a chance to talk to very interesting people. In the end, if you are still not convinced, keep in mind that you can always try Linux from a live CD (without installing it on your computer). Despite the popularity of Windows and Mac, Linux has become more and more used by people worldwide, and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Linux and open source software have especially gained popularity among scientists and engineers. For instance, the Large Hadron Collider, a $10 billion physics project, runs completely on Linux. Furthermore, big technology companies, like Amazon and Google, heavily rely on Linux and open source, and they wouldn’t be where they are today if it were not for Linux. These are not the only reasons why Linux is so great, and even for non-technologically oriented people Linux can become an amazing tool. Try it out for yourself. The worst that can happen is that you lose a couple hours of your time!

FURTHER READING • Linux usage statistics: http://www. statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/110525/ dq110525b-eng.htm • Linux used by CERN: internetnews.com/ skerner/2008/09/large-hadron-collider-powere.html • Linux used by Google and Amazon: zdnet.com/blog/open-source/red-hatceo-google-facebook-owe-it-all-to-linuxopen-source/9414


20

STUDENT CLUB

McGill IEEE Student Branch by Mojtaba Vaezi

Seventeen months ago, when a group of dedicated individuals embarked on reactivating the McGill IEEE Student Branch, they couldn’t imagine a better situation than the one now: With a long, rich history that can be traced back to 1936, the IEEE student branch at McGill was dormant for several years until 2011. Yet, it experienced a phenomenal growth during the past year and its members surpassed 290 in December 2012. Currently, the branch is the largest IEEE student branch in Eastern Canada. professional subjects ings as well as several technical, professional, and social events throughout the school year. • Hosting “Star of the Year” and “End of School” picnic Established in 1884, IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is the We are particularly adept at meeting the world’s largest professional, non-profit asso- needs of members. By becoming a mem- In the future, we will consider extending the ciation for the advancement of technology, ber of the McGill SB, students are privileged list to include: with more than 400,000 members and above to be involved in the electrical engineering 100,000 student members in 150 countries. community on campus, in Montreal, and • Holding Student Professional Awareness Conferences (S-PACs) internationally. • Offering crash course tutorials to sophomores and juniors With a number of notable efforts, we recall the IEEEXtreme • Raising funds for charity Organization and History

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in the Fall 2012 as the branch’s most notable achievement. It was a great success and McGill teams excelled securing 5 teams out of the top 7 teams of Canada. »

IEEE opens the door to opportunities to help This is achieved through: develop your professional identity in sciences, technology, and engineering. Access • Holding social events for fun, creating a sense of community, and fostering team to cutting-edge information, networking opbuilding skills portunities, career enhancement, and many other exclusive member benefits are the key • Organizing corporate events to expand members’ professional networks, providvalues of IEEE membership. ing them with internship and employment opportunities, and exploring real-world IEEE Canada, operating in three geographic applications of what they have learned areas (Western, Central and Eastern Canada), has over 50 student branches in universities • Holding technical and leadership events to develop practical and personal growth and colleges. It recognizes the individual achievements of its members through an extensive program of awards, promotes student Here is a list of some activities that McGill SB growth by providing scholarships and grants has undertaken in the past two years: through the IEEE Canadian Foundation, and provides resources to assist members in up- • Design and programming competitions grading their knowledge base, professional • Organizing field trips to Industry • Organizing field trips to Universities (e.g. skills, and networking capabilities. Harvard, MIT, etc.) • Organizing information sessions and reOperation and activities cruitment events The branch holds biweekly committee meet- • Bringing in speakers on technical and

With a number of notable efforts, we recall the IEEEXtreme in the Fall 2012 as the branch’s most notable achievement. It was a great success and McGill teams excelled securing 5 teams out of the top 7 teams of Canada. There were over 1,900 teams in this competition from all over the globe. Among the branch’s achievements is the 2012 “IEEE Region 7 (Canada) Exemplary Student Branch Award,” awarded at the 2012 IEEE Canada Student Congress in Mississauga, last September. As a result of an exceptional membership development and successful events, we have succeeded in building a healthy financial situation this year. Apart from the funds and grants from the ECE department, IEEE Montreal and IEEE Canada, we were able for the first time to have secured funding from industry. Potential uses of this cash surplus would be to create competitions, support student projects, and subsidize events. Challenges Intended to enhance the learning experiences of the IEEE student members, McGill


IEEE McNaughton Learning Resource Centre was established in 1983 and upgraded in 1987. The centre was supposed to be a hub for encouraging IEEE membership and activities, and interaction between the SB and IEEE Montreal. However, the center has been obsolete due to the inactivity of branch for several years. Having applied for IEEE Canada grants, we have been communicating with the department for a new, spacious location. The upgrading of a McNaughton center will have a lasting impact on the Branch operations. Another challenge is to establish a sustainable connection between the SB and undergraduate students such that they become more involved in the activities and committee. We believe that coming together, keeping together, and working together will enhance progress and lead to more success. We are also trying to break out of our shell as an ECE-only group and reach out to other

academic disciplines in engineering and sci- page for the committee election in April. ence. We live in a world where women are empowIn an effort to form meaningful ties with ered to go for what they want. The SB has undergraduates, we have started cooper- recently formed the women in engineering ation with ECSESS, the undergraduate soci- (WiE) affinity group, and will organize a oneety at the ECE department. To begin, we are day workshop in the coming months. So, organizing a joint trip to Ottawa to visit a come and raise your voice; it is your work number of well-known corporations in early to shape the future and make your wishes February. Furthermore, we have been sub- come true. sidizing the undergraduate membership by We are active in social media, including up to 30%. Facebook and Twitter. Don’t forget to visit our webpage www.sb-ieee.ece.mcgill.ca to Opportunities for volunteering get more details about past and upcoming If you like to organize innovative, fun, and events, as well as our achievements, and educational activities, come and share it with membership benefits ■ us; the SB welcomes you! Through volunteerism at IEEE, you can take pride in participating in activities that interest you, while Get involved with gaining valuable leadership skills and connecting with others in your field of interest. McGill’s IEEE chapter at If you are looking for a position in the next sb-ieee.ece.mcgill.ca year’s committee, keep an eye on our web-

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22

SPACE TOURISM

Space tourism close to becoming a reality by Roupen Djinbachian

news.com.au

and more affordable for the average citizen and to provide the infrastructure needed to make spaceflights possible. Many spacecraft can no longer be used after completing their mission and are discarded, which can prove to be extremely costly. Thus, companies wishing to invest in space tourism are This scenario is a very likely picture of what currently researching methods of reusable might be encountered in the next few dec- space transportation. ades. This isn’t to say that space tourism isn’t available now; in fact, Russia has previously SpaceX, for instance, has a prototype spaceallowed some civilians to travel alongside ship called Dragon that can transport up to their cosmonauts to the International Space 7 crew members. It is currently working with Station (ISS) for anywhere between 20 and NASA to find a way to transport astronauts headed to the ISS, though it also hopes to 40 million US dollars [1, 2]. provide commercial spaceflights to ordinary The goal, however, for the burgeoning space citizens in the near future. tourism sector is to make these trips safe Imagine yourself heading out with your family on your annual vacation. Except this time, you aren’t going to an airport for an African safari or to a harbour for a Mediterranean cruise, but instead to a spaceport for your much-anticipated trip to the Moon.

Reaction Engines Ltd has proposed a “spaceplane” named SKYLON that produces thrust by burning liquid hydrogen fuel with the oxygen from the air, significantly reducing the amount of liquid oxygen needed on board the ship to burn the fuel. Its SABRE engines will accelerate the ship to Mach 5 (6125 km/ hr) up until 25 km above sea level, at which point the engines will switch to rocket mode and carry it the rest of the way to space.[3] The design received endorsement from the European Space Agency (ESA) in November 2012, and they are now looking for funding to build their SABRE engines [4]. Another company, Virgin Galactics, already has more than 500 ticket holders waiting to catch a ride on board SpaceShipTwo, a


spaceship that can hold 2 crew members and 6 passengers. They plan for this spacecraft to be the first ship that sends people to space on a regular basis. The ticket price is currently reported to be $200,000, with a $20,000 down payment [5], a price significantly lower than what the Russians charge. One of the first few planned trips will take the passengers 110km above sea level, with 100km above sea level marking the beginning of space, for a total weightlessness duration of 6 minutes.

ists. One of these modules is also destined to connect to the ISS in 2015, providing Bigelow Aerospace with a chance to demonstrate their concept [7].

Space Island Group, another contender in the space tourism business, intends to build ring-like structures that can spin at variable speeds to create an artificial gravity that is equal to a third of the gravity on Earth[8]. This could be highly beneficial, as it may potentially eliminate many of the negative effects that come from prolonged exposure It is also important to keep in mind that to low-gravity environments, such as loss of these ships will need dedicated ports to bone density and muscle atrophy [9]. house them and to accommodate them for takeoff and landing. Fortunately, several of Naturally, these accommodations will need these are being built, and some, like Space- to regularly stock oxygen, water, food, and port America in New Mexico, have already other supplies for their guests. While some of these necessities could be grown or rebeen open for business since 2011 [6]. cycled on the stations themselves, most supIn addition to transportation, future space plies would still need to be sent directly from travellers will need tourist destinations to Earth. One candidate for these missions is visit and accommodations to live in for the SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is capable of carryduration of their journey and their stay. At ing a total of 10T of cargo, more than enough the moment, a couple of companies are to resupply future space hotels. As a matter looking into providing housing for these in- of fact, in 2008 NASA employed Falcon 9 to send supplies to the ISS, thus illustrating its dividuals. potential as a reliable cargo carrier [11]. Bigelow Aerospace plans to send housing modules into space alongside spacecraft. Safety, of course, will be one of the main These modules are compact rooms that can factors that will make or break the future of inflate upon command to form livable areas space tourism. Before governments can althat are shielded from the radiation of the low their citizens to leave the planet, comSun. Theoretically, Bigelow Aerospace could panies must prove that their shuttles and build an entire hotel room by room just by living quarters will protect their customers interconnecting these modules, effectively throughout their journey. In fact, the US govcreating new destinations in space for tour- ernment has already begun to draft some

guidelines to ensure the safety of their citizens who wish to travel to space. In 2004, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, or H.R. 5382, was signed into law. It provides rules and regulations that space companies must follow to legally send people to space, such as getting a license from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) [10]. Space is truly the final frontier for mankind. As future space tourists, we should keep our eyes on the fast-developing space industry, as it will undoubtedly shape the world for decades to come. After all, we might soon find ourselves staring at a tiny blue dot outside our windows and reminiscing of a time when this was all but an impossible dream ■

REFERENCES 1. Space Tourist, Back From ‘Paradise,’ Lands on Steppes”. by Patrick E. Tyler 2. Clark, Stephen (September 15, 2010). “Boeing allies with Space Adventures for tourist flights”. 3. http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/sabre_howworks. html 4. “Anywhere on Earth in four hours? Top-secret Skylon space plane could replace jets and rockets, company claims”. National Post. 29 November 2012. 5. Virgin Galactic. http://www.virgingalactic.com 6. “Branson Dedicates Space Terminal”. Wall Street Journal. 18 October 2011. 7. “International space station to receive inflatable module”. Washington Post. 16 January 2013. 8. http://spaceislandgroup.com/wheel-stations.html 9. http://www.nsbri.org/SCIENCE-and-TECHNOLOGY/ Musculoskeletal-Alterations/ 10. “Private-spaceflight bill signed into law”. NBC news. 23 December 2004 11. http://www.spacex.com/falcon9.php


Technophilic Magazine -- Winter 2013  

This issue is centered on the theme of astronomy, where we explore topics ranging from Super Earths and space travel to our place in the cos...

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