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Volume 3 — Issue 4

The SSC’s Official Science Newspaper

Good morning, Dr. Kang The Current Editor Ivan Urosev

sits down with Dr. Chil-Yong Kang to discuss his past research and possible ideas for the future.


The excitement regarding the recent news in the development of the SAV001 HIV vaccine here at Western has spilled over beyond the faculty of science, and has propelled the project's lead researcher, Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, into the world of academic celebrity. Despite the attention, Dr. Kang remains cautiously humble about what the future holds, perhaps a testament to the journey that has brought him to this point. Born in Korea in the 1940's, Dr. Kang's academic career began with a boat journey to the West which took 40 days and 40 nights, and has culminated with his virology research here at Western.

THE CURRENT: Dr. Kang, thank you for

taking the time to talk to us. You’ve mentioned that you have been working on HIV research for 20 years now. Can you elaborate on that 20 year process?

Dr. Kang:

HIV research was easy for us to start because we’ve been working on retroviruses before. The

retrovirus is the group of viruses which HIV belongs to. So, I’ve been working on retroviruses since, you know, mid-seventies when I was a post-doctoral fellow. And then worked on, its called avian retroviruses, avian sarcoma virus, avian leukosis virus and also avian reticulendotheliosis virus. Those are all retroviruses. So, in the

INSIDE THIS ISSUE, YOU’RE GOING TO FIND... 4D’s haven’t been this interesting since the time those two female lifeguards saved you from drowning. Page 3 Scientific reasoning behind the supposed looming apocalypse. Page 4-5 Famous birthdays: James Prescott Joule.

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What’s more powerful than a geomagnetic storm? Two geomagnetic storms. Page 7 The best damn comics section in the league.

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Follow us on twitter! We know how to give you a raging hadron...

early 80s HIV was discovered, and that was one of the retroviruses that I thought the problem would be solved very soon. But the late 80’s, we started with HIV work about 87, 88.

Dr. Kang:

No, I was at the University of Ottawa. I was the chair of microbiology and immunology department at the University of Ottawa medical school. And so we decided “oh well lets do some basic research on HIV”. So, the transition from other retroviruses into HIV was relatively easy for us. So we did a lot of those fundamental studies of HIV at that time...Then, unexpectedly, people could not figure out how to make a vaccine against HIV. People tried so many different strategies, but they did not work. Any


Dr. Kang:


signal peptide. Which produces large amounts of the glycoprotein, and processes them really adequately. That enhances virus production; faster and more.


TC: Was that here at Western?





Well, that difficulty still stands. First of all, there’s no animal model for HIV vaccine efficacy test. So even if you have an experimental vaccine developed you cannot test it, in any animals other than humans. So you have to test it in humans. That’s one really, reason why HIV, the progress of HIV vaccine research is so slow. Second one, is no one seemed to know what strategy one should use to make a vaccine effective in preventing HIV infection. People have tried subunit vaccines, people have tried recombinant virus vaccines, but these strategies did not work... So we’re left with one strategy which was not tried, and this is the killed whole-virus strategy. Why? There were two problems with that. Number one, its too dangerous to produce large quantities. Secondly there was no system to produce enough quantity to make vaccines. And we solved those two problems by genetically modifying the genes of HIV. We took out the NEF gene, which we know is responsible for pathogenesis, so we took it out. And secondly we modified the signal peptide which governs the biosynthesis of the glycoprotein, surface antigen. And so we replaced this natural signal peptide, with a totally exogenous signal peptide which comes from the honeybee. Honeybee mellitin, which is a honeybee toxin

Moving off the actual vaccine, you’re waiting to be interviewed by Chinese television following this. How do you feel about the media response in regards to the vaccine, and your celebrity personally, at least on campus?

Dr. Kang:

I’m trying to downplay this, because we don’t know whether this vaccine will prevent HIV infection. We are doing our best, to see whether this strategy will work, because this strategy worked for other viral diseases... Now how do I feel? I don’t want to be overly enthusiastic about this because I’m a very cautious person. There were so many failures in the past, I don’t want to blow my horn yet, until we see that there is a definite strong efficacy of our vaccine. I’m cautiously optimistic.

[In the future] what I would like to do is provide an adequate amount of funding, guaranteed for 10 years, for each faculty member. - Dr. Kang



Can you tell me about your plans a world institute of virology?

Dr. Kang:

Well an idea, and also I introduced this idea, its my dream. [I need] someone who is influential and who is governing a country, and also who has a really philanthropic mind, and those who have the funds to support this kind of institute. And also I’ve been talking to the business people who might be interested in sponsoring this. Because this can really establish a very; on solid ground this kind of institution will establish a company, or country or individual, as high impact as Nobel. [Nobel] created his.. wealth with the discovery of dynamite and donated that money to recognize people who


The sole responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the authors. Its contents do not reflect the opinion of the University Students’ Council of the University of Western Ontario (“USC”). The USC assumes no responsibility or liability for any error, inaccuracy, omission or comment contained in this publication or for any use that may be made of such information by the reader.

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The Current— December 2012


Our planet is home to many awe-inspiring organisms. If you’re fascinated with life on Earth, but don’t want to get out of your chair to explore the world, here is a glimpse of a few bizarre, exotic, or unconventional creatures your lazy eyes might have otherwise never seen.

VAMPIRE SQUID In the depths of the ocean where sunlight does not penetrate it is difficult to imagine any form of life would take up residence. It is this dark corner of the world however where the vampire squid looms. With large red eyes and a cape-like coat of tentacles it is clear how the squid got its name. But despite its frightening appearance, the vampire squid is quite harmless. It has developed many unique tactics to avoid rather than attack its predators. The most sophisticated avoidance tactic of the squid is the development of photophore organs that completely cover its body. These organs contain bioluminescent chemicals and are used to create a “sparkling” dis-

play of light to confuse and intimidate predators. The vampire squid is the last surviving creature of its order the Vampyromorphida. The survival of the species in an environment with low oxygen and limited food resources has been attributed to the extremely low metabolic rate of the squid. So this creature eats very little, sparkles, and has deep red eyes; it sounds just like Stephanie Meyer’s idea of a vampire to me!

—Kelsey Watson


Considered one of the most intelligent invertebrates, the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) goes beyond the standard environmental camouflage exhibited by other species of octopuses. It is known to imitate the appearance of at least 15 creatures! When under threat from a damselfish, it mimics the fish’s predator, the poisonous banded sea snake. It does so by adjusting muscle tension to expand or contract chromatophore organs, making itself yellow and black. Simultaneously, it retreats to the ocean floor, buries six of its arms, and moves the two free arms in opposite directions to adopt a snakelike conformation.

—Jess Uzonyi

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CAMEL Camels, an amazing beast of the Middle East, live and thrive in some of the most desolate places of our planet. They bear the distinctive feature of having a hump on their backs. These humps were once thought to store water, however, are actually fatty deposits that allow them to survive in hot temperatures by minimizing heat-trapping insulation. The kidneys and intestines of camels are very efficient at retaining water. Most camels are domesticated today and serve to provide milk, heat and hair for textiles. Camels are working animals and can go

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PORTIA SPIDER long periods without water. It is the only mammal to have oval shaped red blood cells to allow them to flow when they are dehydrated rather than clumping, as our blood cells do. Camels can also kick in all four directions, so be sure not to make them angry!

—Urvashi Vyas

Portia spiders, also known as “jumping spiders”, use a plethora of hunting tactics which involve intelligent sophistication rarely observed in such small mammals. They are araneophagic which means they feed only on other spiders. One of their hunting tactics includes vibrating other spiders webs (sometimes for up to 3 days) to mimic captured prey or male courtship, then taking long detours to avoid visual contact and finally dropping from above to kill their prey. Portia spiders have exceptional recognition skills which help it identify its prey and alter their hunting strat-

egy. For example, against spitting spiders they only attack from the rear, however if the spitting spider is carrying eggs it is therefore vulnerable and the Portia spider takes advantage of this by attacking it directly. Laboratory studies have shown that Portia spiders possess problem solving skills that help them create new strategies to capture prey that neither they nor their ancestors would have encountered in the wild. Although I am not normally afraid of spiders, I am afraid of this one so thankfully they are not found in North America! —Rajiv Lakhani

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Current Staff

Steven Robillard — Editor-In-Chief Daniel Tovbis — Creative Editor Jameera Mohamed — Compilation Editor Rajiv Lakhani — Compilation Editor Ivan Urosev — Copy Editor Harmony Hsieh — Features Editor RuiLin Guo — Features Editor Caitlin Martin-Newnham — Outreach Editor Mathura Thiyagarajah — Images Editor

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Current Contributors Kelsey Watson, Jess Uzonyi, Urvashi Vyas, Mitchell Thom, Make like an acid and contribute to our base:

Thinking in four directions Gain a new perspective with dimensional analogy


Daniel Tovbis What’s the shortest path between two points? The straight one, of course. But what does straight really mean? Imagine a piece of paper; it has a twodimensional surface. For a two dimensional person to move from Point A to Point B, they’d move it a straight line. But if the piece of paper were folded into a U shape, there could be a faster way: off the paper and through the third dimension! This kind of thinking is the basis of “dimensional analogy”, the easiest way of explaining and understanding the theory of the fourth dimension. The theory of a fourth spatial, Euclidean dimension (not time, Einstein) has been studied since the eighteenth century. The theory was brought to the public eye by Edwin Abbot’s Flatland, a novel about a square living in the two-dimensional Flatland visited by a sphere from “spaceland”. However, the theory has been put on the backburner ever since spacetime and special relativity came along. Dimensional Analogy refers to the act of examining the relationship between the nth and the (n-1)th dimension, and using that to compare the (n+1)th and the nth. It’s necessary because we can’t directly interact with the fourth dimension, just like a two-dimensional person couldn’t with the third. Dimensional Analogy has led to some interesting conclusions about the nature of four dimensional space:


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By the numbers


Creative Editor

Mildly Amusing Fact: “Octopuses” is the most correct plural form of octopus. “Octopodes” is rarely used, but still correct. “Octopi” is debatable, as it was formed based on the incorrect belief that “octopus” is derived from Latin, instead of Greek.

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The Current— December 2012

The intensity of a blue whale’s whistle, in decibels, making it the loudest animal on Earth.

1.08 x 10


The speed, in km/h, that the Earth orbits the Sun.

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-As a 3-D object casts a 2-D shadow, a 4-D object casts a 3-D shadow -A 4-D creature could see all sides (and the inside) of a 3-D object simultane ously. -As a 3-D shape is bounded by 2-D planes, a 4-D “hypershape” is bounded by 3-D planes. A hypercube is com posed of 6 cubes folded together. -As the 3-D universe is composed of an infinite number of 2-D planes, the 4-D universe is composed of an infinite number of 3-D planes.

Our entire existence could just be one slice of a greater universe!

Don’t go contemplating this stuff too hard. You might end up locking yourself in your room, trapped in existentialist moping for the rest of your life. That junk is for the Arts and Humanities newspaper to cover, not us!

The theory of a fourth spatial dimension has been studied since the eighteenth century.

Stem cells and the art of plasticity Immaturity was never so much a desired quality.


The percentage of DNA shared between a human and a bannana.

72 The number of muscle interactions required to produce human speech.

Mitchell Thom Current Contributor From the time you were a child, environmentalists have been advocating the use of the “3 R’s” – that is, Reduce Reuse and Recycle - as a means to eliminate unnecessary waste in the environment. It seems recently that scientists may have caught on and taken this slogan to a new extreme. Researchers at the Lieber institute for Brain Development in Baltimore have discovered an amazing way to recycle certain cells from human cadavers. It turns out that pockets of cells in the human brain can live for days, or even weeks, inside the body after death. These cells can be isolated from the linings of a cadaver’s brain and reprogrammed into stem cells. Yes, you read that right. We can create stem cells from somebody’s brain after they have passed away. For the layman: a stem cell is a cell that can divide into almost any kind of tissue that you could find in the body. The flexibility of stem cells has created an exciting area of research – scientists believe that, in theory, they can cure many degenerative diseases or heal once-permanent injuries (such as spinal cord damage).

If you kept up with who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine this year, you would know that Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka were honoured with this prestigious award for their work with stem cells. Usin Gurdon’s research from 1962 Yamanaka was able to genetically program mature skin cells in mice to become “immature cells”, or stem cells, which he named “induced pluripotent stem cells,” or iPS. Scientists can now use the same techniques that Yamanaka used on mice to harvest iPS from adult nerve, heart and liver

cells. The discovery of pockets of living cells found in the brains of cadavers has led to successful growth of iPS in 146 human brain donors. Cells from cadavers could start a new generation of stem cell therapies, as they can yield tissues for study that researchers could not safely remove from living people. The team at the Lieber institute is hoping to use these findings to “fix” neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, autism, and mental retardation. DAMN, science is cool.


The mass, in grams, of Astatine (the rarest element on Earth) found in the Earth’s crust.


The melting point, in degrees Celsius, of Gallium, a metal that will melt in the palm of your hand.

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The Current— December 2012

At World’s End

The Current— December 2012

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After hours of intense research and (il)legitimate speculation, The Current team brings you the latest actually-somewhat-sort-of feasible ways the world could end in 2012. You know, just in case. You can thank us later.


The earth is a violent place. Continents collide, lava spews, waves destroy, and the ground can crumble beneath your feet. Natural disasters have always been a part of life, and perhaps, somewhere, is a sleeping giant: a catastrophe of massive proportions that will end life as we know it. Climate change has been linked to shifting weather patterns and an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters. Here are some events that doomsayers claim could spell the end:

Megathrust Earthquakes: devastating quakes that form at subduction zones where one plate is forced underneath the other. Since 1900, all earthquakes with magnitudes of 9.0 or more (six total) have been megathrust quakes. The next disaster is only a matter of time. Scientists are waiting for “The Big One”, a megathrust earthquake overdue to strike the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which would affect the Pacific Northwest, including BC. Another potential hotspot is between the Philipphine Sea Plate and the North American Plate near Tokyo.

In our quest to surpass previous generation in cleanliness, we seem to have armed our microscopic enemies with an overpowered set of genetics singularly aimed toward our destruction. Overuse of antibiotics in medicine and healthcare products, and our heavy-handed interference in agriculture have led to extremely resistant pathogenic bacteria. Triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal agent, inhibits fatty acid synthesis which leads to the eventual destruction of bacterial cell membrane. Commonly found in anti-bacterial soaps, it is now found in all types of consumer products, including kitchen utensils, toys and socks. Sounds

useful - except the amount of time spent washing hands or handling the products is not even close to the amount of time it takes for triclosan to be effective at eliminating the bacteria. Resistance of bacteria to agents such as triclosan thus follows the same story as that of antibiotics. Food irradiation, the process of using radiation to induce mutations and subsequently destroy any unwanted organisms on agriculture, also carries some serious implications. Bacterial strains that survive our reckless onslaught are now immune to the very technologies we have created to eliminate them.

Since the treaty’s conception in 1975, our ability to manipulate microorganisms and chemical compounds, and the ease at which we do so, has increased exponen-

tices lead to erosion, soil salinization, aquifer depletion, and desertification. 30-40% of global cropland has already been degraded, and we continue to lose millions of acres a year to desertification, pollution, urban sprawl, and more. Combine those factors with a population set to overshoot carrying capacity, reaching over 10 billion by 2050, and we have the recipe for a food-related disaster. Preventing such a crisis is a tall order – certainly, we will need to reduce unsustainable agriculture, poverty, populations, emissions causing climate change, and consumption. Maybe genetically modified foods will be the way of the future (or maybe they’ll bring even more problems), or some revolutionary agricultural technique will ease scarcity.

It has been argued that the great French seer and apothecary, Nostradamus predicted the end of the world in 2012 in parallel with the ending of the Mayan calendar.



World poverty, of course, compounds the problem, especially in light of dramatically increasing food prices. Climate change also brings altered temperatures, changed precipitation patterns, and more severe weather events like floods and droughts. Agricultural prac-


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It may not be the sudden violent demise we picture when we think apocalypse, but slowly and surely, humans are marching towards a massive global food crisis. It’s hard to imagine here in Canada, where grocery stores overflow with abundance, but there are already severe food shortages worldwide that will only get worse with time.

Biological or chemical weapons have been made and used extensively in historical battles - smallpox blankets and catapulted disease-ridden corpses, anyone? More recently, some of the major powers experimented with deadly strains of bacteria during the cold war. Their effectiveness and scale of attack relative to their production scale is so much greater than any other weaponry humans have the capacity of harnessing, even nuclear weapons. So much so, in fact, that as of 2011, over 150 countries have signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction treaty (wheew, that’s more than a mouthful!).

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Megatsunamis: Large ocean waves from 40 m to over 100 m tall caused by impact, volcanoes, or landslides (tsunamis caused by earthquakes are smaller). Waves can reach over 20 km inland, and reshape entire coastlines, as seen in the most recent megatsunami with widespread impact – 4000 years ago on Reunion Island (near Madagascar). Posssible sources for future megatsunamis are large landslides on volcanic islands (like Reunion, Hawaiian, and Canary islands), or even an unstable rock face in southwestern BC.

Is the new iPhone 5 your current baby? If you’re like most people, it’ll be cradled lovingly until the next new shiny toy comes along - probably half a year down the road. As the world continues to make leaps in technological advances in the midst of international political unrest, the possibility of the intentional misuse of our new-found technology grows.


Supervolcanoes: volcanic eruptions so enormous they can wipe out populations, change landscapes, and alter climate for years after. “Devastation would be complete and incomprehensible”, says American geophysicist Bob Smith. More than a thousand square kilometers


would be obliterated and sulphuric acid and ash would be launched in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that the Earth experiences a supervolcano once around every 50 000 years. The most catastrophic supervolcano in human history was at Toba, Sumatra, some 74 000 years ago, and it plunged earth into a volcanic winter. Another one is due. Nobody knows where or when, but Yellowstone (US), Toba (Indonesia), and Taupo (New Zealand) are possibilities.

tially. We have companies that mass-produce genes now. Any terrorist group with a minimal amount of resources and innovative minds can wreak havoc on the entire Western world, if they were so inclined. It seems humans like to either go big or go really tiny, when it comes to warfare. Between Earth’s current count of nuclear warheads totalling at almost 20k, and our microtechnology invading not only our everyday lives, but our bodies, our cells, our DNA - there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to our civilization growing, but also much to fear for.

According to the Mayans, the world is supposed to end in the year 2012. Are you buying that? When’s the last time you even ran into a Mayan? - Jay Leno

In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years? - Stephen Hawking Background courtesy of Rafael A. Burgos

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The Current—December 2012


2.29 million B.C: First evidence of tool use by hominidae

1642: Sir Issac Newton is born

December 2 1984 THE BHOPAL DISASTER Union Carbide, a multi-national chemical company with a factory located in the heart of Bhopal, India, were the recipients of thousands of class action lawsuits and personal grievance claims after over 30 tonnes of methyl isocyanate were released into the surrounding residential districts of the city. The mixing of the gas with water produced a runaway reaction which allowed the gas to escape the storage tanks by way of an emergency venting procedure utilized by the factorie’s safety systems. Methyl isocyanate has a greater density than the surrounding air, facilitating a low-lying noxious cloud of what is essentially poison having an extreme effect upon shorter individuals in the population, such as children and small animals.

2011: The gods of genetics are cruel, blessing Snooki with a functioning uterus

December 24 1818 th


The official immediate death toll after the gas release numbered greater than 2,250 people, however casualties rose exponentially over the next few weeks due to the slow-acting effects of methyl isocyanate upon human physiology, such as the stimulation of bronchial edema and pneumonia. Methyl isocyanate also has the tendency to produce circulatory hemorrhages, contributing to the increase in the death toll to over 20,000 in the subsequent months after the disaster. Union Carbide claimed negligence of their employees to a situation deemed critical, but is still infamous within the Indian community and the rest of the world as the shining example of what can go wrong with mass chemical storage and production.

The Current— December 2012

A brewer by trade and physicist by both interest and reputation, James Prescott Joule was the proprietor of the study of the nature of heat and its mechanical elements. Born to a wealthy brewer farmer in a house adjoining the family brewery, Joule was educated quickly in the nature of solution chemistry and embraced his heritage, yet showed an uncommon desire for determining the factors behind the heat exchange he observed in the vats his father used to store alcohol. James became the manager of the family brewery following the passing of his father, and immediately became interested in replacing the steam engine utilized by his father to brew the beer with the newly invented electric motor, which would drastically improve

efficiency. This led to his proposal of Joule’s Laws, which concerned the heat produced by an electric current, and resulted in the adoption of the SI unit of the joule, which describes the amount of work done in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one meter. Joule died in 1989 in his hometown of Sale, England after producing many versions of an apparatus for measuring the mechanical equivalent of heat and providing innumerable dissertations and defences for his theories of the relationship between heat and the mechanical elements that constitute it. Happy 194th birthday James.

The beauty of a geomagnetic storm The science behind the phenomena known as Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis Jameera Mohamed Many people enjoy spending stormy nights cuddled in blankets listening to the pouring rain and thunder, or watching mountains of snow come down outside of their windows. A storm brings about a variety of feelings within people, ranging from fear, to calmness or thrill. But what about a storm that makes you stop in awe? A geomagnetic storm is sure to do just that. The phenomenon is known as the Aurora borealis or Aurora australis (also known as Northern Lights or Southern Lights, respectively). The Auroras are fascinating light displays that are visible near the magnetic poles in the Arctic and Antarctic. How does this amazing phenomenon arise? It all begins with the sun. The sun’s activity can result in coronal mass ejections (CMEs), a release of charged particles or plasma into space. The Earth gets immersed in these solar winds and as they bombard our atmosphere, they cause the release of photons. As the particles of the solar winds collide with magnetospheric particles accelerating along the Earth’s magnetic field lines, they cause ionization of nitrogen atoms and excitation of oxygen and nitrogen atoms. As the ionized nitrogen atoms reacquire electrons they emit a blue light. If the nitrogen atoms are returning to ground state from excitation, it results in the emission of red light. The emission of red light is a much rarer occurrence to experience. The consequence of oxygen atoms returning to ground state is the emanation of green or brownish-red light. The colour is dependent on the amount of ener-

The magnetic fields and electrical forces......move along with 20,000,000 amperes of current at 50,000 volts.

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gy absorbed during excitation. The altitude of these atoms also influence the wavelength of photon emitted, and hence the colour seen. The Auroras definitely know how to put on a show. They have some pretty smooth dance moves to go along with the light show. The magnetic fields and electrical forces interact with each other in constantly shifting combinations and as they move along with 20,000,000 amperes of current at 50,000 volts, they Auroras create a dance smoother than a waltz. Who knew all those magnetic fields we

learned about in physics and those atoms in chemistry could be so cool? If you’re looking to take a vacation and experience the smooth moves and light spectacle check out these places where you can see the Auroras at their brightest: Tromsø, Norway; Yellowknife, Canada; Fairbanks, Alaska, United States; Kangerlussuaq, Greenland; Southern tip of South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They only peak once every 11 years, and the next one in 2013 so I’d be sure to book my ticket soon.

A tentative existence The Bhopal Disaster memorial statue - a weeping mother

...CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 made a contribution to society. And if we can establish this world institute of virology, I think that institute can make significant contributions for humankind... I really hope that in my lifetime that I can see that kind of institute established. I’m not going to be involved, I just want to make sure that this happens. I don’t care who does it, as long as there is an institute established, then I can sit back and say “praise the lord” something happens. Now the reason that I thought about this, is because over the years, you know 40 years or something of my faculty I life, I spent an average of about 2.5 – 3 months every year, in relationship to funding. Because all the professors especially in science, you have to have funding in order to continue your research and that funding is sole responsibility of the faculty, him or herself. If you don’t have your funding you don’t have your students, if you don’t have students you cannot have any progress. So we are spending so much time and effort to get

funding. Sometimes its totally uncertain whether you’re gonna get the money or not, I mean that’s the struggle. Now if we can alleviate that struggle, and give 100% of scientists’ time to concentrate on their research, then the progress will be faster. So what I would like to do is provide an adequate amount of funding, guaranteed for 10 years, for each faculty member. So we can renew this contract every 10 years. But we want to put maybe 25 – 30 best virologists in one place, so that you have critical mass. And those 30 virologists will hire maybe 10 [researchers] each, so that you will have over 300 scientists in one institute, so that you will have critical mass. And then let them do what they want to do, with their free mind.. *Dr. Kang’s responses edited due to space

The story of the world’s strangest parrot

Courtesy of Julian Trubin

have been restrictions.

Science Here Now and

THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT? Dr Linda Howie and Dr Pauline Barmby from Western University will discuss astronomical catastrophes, the Mayan calendar and the hype around December 2012. Separate truth from fiction and learn about why you should not blow your savings just yet!



251 Dundas St. Stevenson & Hunt A DROP IN 2 hours free validated parking in Citi Plaza during Library hours. 2012

RuiLin Guo

Features Editor Meet the New Zealand Kakapo. There’s Alice and Jack and Sirocco. Maestro and Phoenix. Luke. Joe. There are now so few Kakapo in the world that almost every single one is given a name! Once the third most common bird in New Zealand, this critically endangered parrot is now relegated to only three tiny isolated islands. The Kakapo has overcome nearly insurmountable odds, having been both hurt and helped by humans in equal measure. The current official count by the Kakapo Recovery Programme shows only 126 Kakapo alive on earth! Though they’re half a world away, if we care anything about conservation and human responsibility, then the Kakapo’s unique story is one worth knowing. The Kakapo is like no other parrot you’ve ever met. It’s the world’s heaviest parrot at 1.3 to 4 kilograms and it has a number of unique characteristics: it is flightless, nocturnal, sexually dimorphic in size (males are larger), and

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE AURORAS: 1) The name “Aurora Borealis” is credited to Galileo Galilei (1616) and means ‘northern dawn.’ 2) The Aurora Borealis is named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and Boreas, the Greek name for north wind. 3) Yellowknife (Northwest Territories, Canada) is the capital for Aurora tourism. 4)The height of the displays can occur up to 1000 km (620 miles), although most are between 80-120 km. 5) Some Inuit peoples believed that the auroras were the spirits of animals that they hunted.


Joule’s apparatus involved the rotation of a paddle submerged in water to determine the mechanical equivalent of heat.

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Compilation Editor

110 - 168 AD: Claudius Ptomely theorizes that the Earth is the center of the universe


entirely herbivorous. Also known as the Owl Parrot, the Kakapo’s name comes from the native Maori term kākāpō for ‘night parrot’ and its scientific name Strigops habroptilus also refers to owl-like characteristics of facial disks, soft feathers, and nocturnal behaviour. Kakapos are excellent climbers and walkers, but their main defense is camouflage, as their mottled greenish-yellow plumage blends in extraordinarily well with their forest habitat. Kakapo feed on various grasses, herbs, and leaves, and breed every two to five years, corresponding with the super crops of native fruiting trees. Kakapo are also unique for their polygynous breeding system, where males gather at special sites known as leks and perform mating “boom” calls to attract females. The Kakapo has not fared well in its encounters with humans. Their history with human contact goes back to Maori tribes from Polynesia, who settled on New Zealand’s islands over 1200 years ago. Kakapos were hunted as a major Maori food source, eaten by domestic or feral dogs, and killed for their skins. Their forest and scrubland habitat was also degraded with intentional burnings to clear land. By the time of European settlement in the 1800’s, the Kakapo was already extirpated on eastern South Island and reduced to isolated local populations elsewhere. With the Europeans came land clearance, loss of food sources due to farming, hunting for food, and collection for museums and zoos. Introduced predators such as stoats, rats, pos-

6) The lights also produce a strange sound for those close enough to hear, which has been described as similar to the sound of applause. 7) It is possible to forecast the aurora activity within three days accuracy as NOAA polar satellites monitor the aurora activity and solar storms on the sun. 8) The best chance you have is to visit the latitudes in the Arctic Circle from 68 to 74 degrees Facts compiled using various sources, including the Library of Congress database.

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sums, cats, and dogs took the greatest toll. A distinctive scent, loud breeding displays, nests on the ground, and flightnessless, all contribute to making the Kakapos extremely vulnerable to mammals that hunt using smell. The severe decline in Kakapo population reached an all-time low in 1994, when only 47 individuals remained in existence! Populations have been slow to recover. There is still hope for the fascinating Kakapo, however. Their future will be a lesson in conservation management, and the model for the success or failure of humans taking action to protect endangered species. The Kakapo Recovery Programme, which began in 1989, has shown many intensive management solutions including relocating birds to better habitats, radio-tagging every bird, eliminating predatory mammals, heating nests, and giving supplementary feedings to improve breeding. The global Kakapo population has been moved to relatively predator-free Anchor, Little Barrier, and Codfish islands, and there is currently a project to restore Secretary Island and Restoration Island for Kakapo use. These weird parrots are teetering on the brink of extinction, but with conservation efforts a success story is entirely possible. Only time will tell which fate befalls the curious Kakapo.

Courtesy of

The so-called ‘Owl Parrot’ has seen its existence threated due to human activity.

For more information on the conservation of Kakapo parrots, visit

Page 8

The Current—December 2012

COMICS Unlike fractals, all great issues come to an end.


Hey kids, here’s a chance for you to work your thinking caps. Which one of these science facts is false? 1)

Alien hand syndrome is neurological disorder in which one of your hands seems to take on a life of its own. Naw dude...

Yooo, man, black holes are the coolest!


Nikola Tesla created an “earthquake machine” that almost destroyed New York’s fifth Ave. 3)

Leonardo da Vinci drew up a design document for a tank in the fifteenth century. 4)


84% of matter in the universe is invisible. 5)

Most hamburgers on the market are passed through Ammonia gas to kill accumulated bacteria before selling. A: They’re all true. Crazy huh??




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December 2012 Volume 3 - Issue 4