Ozone Layer on the mend, due to the chemical ban

Since it’s discovery in 1985, the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic has been a testament to humankind’s detrimental effects on the environment. Now however, there is cause to be hopeful. Atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Susan Solomon is surprised to report the gap is shrinking, “I didn’t think it would be this early.”

The study led by Solomon was published online by Science, it explains the deterioration of the ozone is original due to the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): chlorine contacting chemicals that built up in the atmosphere through aerosol cans and various other human made products. Scientists identifying the problem lobbied for the Montreal Protocol of 1987, an international agreement to phase out the use of the harmful chemicals.

With the combined use of satellite measurements, ground based instruments and weather balloons Solomon and her team determined that since 2000 the hole has shrunk by 4 million square kilometres.

Paul Newman, who runs NASA’s Arctic Ozone Watch website is sceptical of Solomon’s findings.  Attributing the reduction of chlorine and bromine as the only factor in the ozone layer mending does not seem plausible to him. Instead citing the shifting climate as a major factor contributing to at least 50% of why the hole is shrinking.

Solomon has some vested interest in the studies outcome as she led the initial study in 1986 that identified the stratospheric clouds as chlorine reaction sites and the status reports following the Montreal Protocol. She remains optimistic, “The fact that we’ve made a global choice to do something different and the planet has responded to out choice can’t help but be uplifting,” she says.

According to Solomon’s predictions the hole in the ozone will not close completely until 2050 at the earliest.

Centennial Leaders award recipients announced

UBC has named ten gifted students from around the world as the Centennial Leaders award recipients.

These students have risen from challenging circumstances and have given back to the community through volunteering.

They will receive full scholarship covering everything from tuition to housing to food. The scholarship covers up to a value of $80,000 over the course of their studies at UBC.

“What is unique about our Centennial Leaders is that despite their own struggles, they all give their time volunteering for community causes – from helping feed the homeless to assisting physically challenged people with fitness training,” said Kate Ross, associate vice-president, enrolment services and registrar. Ross also said they are thrilled to help these remarkable young people in realizing their goals at UBC.

One of these award winners is Syrian-born, Surrey raised Christian Michel Francis. He graduated from high school this year with an exceptional  average of 97.2 percent. Francis said receiving the award has changed everything for him.

“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t speak. I was so in shock. You could tell how relieved my father was and so sure he was I could be successful at UBC.”

He works at a part-time fast food job and volunteers at Fraser Health Authority where he assists disabled adults work out in a Surrey gym. His mother died in 2015 due to breast cancer and his father is unable to work  owing to a rapidly advancing disease, Macular Degeneration. As a result Francis spent his education savings to support the family.

centennial Leaders Award recipients will receive "full-ride" scholarships. (Photo courtesy of : www.freeimages.com)

centennial Leaders Award recipients will receive “full-ride” scholarships.
(Photo courtesy of : www.freeimages.com)

Another Centennial Leader is, Kara Froese from Cranbrook. Froese is committed to protecting the environment and wilderness.

She is a full-time second-year student at the College of the Rockies. Froese plays volleyball on the school’s team, volunteers for Cranbrook Search and Rescue and has a part-time lifeguarding job.

During her spare time she is in the mountains chasing her passion for the outdoors.

“A lot of the time I’m looking to unwind, shake off the stresses of the city. I’m not looking to “find myself”, but I do find a bit of an anchor point in wild places. It also allows me to notice the flowers, trees, birds etc. and I like the challenge of trying to identify species I’ve never encountered before,” she said.

Froese was inspired by the writings of Farley Mowat and David Suzuki leading her to seek her studies and career following a path in the wilderness.

“The first question my parents asked was: ‘How are you going to pay for it?’” she recalls.

The Centennial Leader Award will allow her to start her bachelor’s degree in forest sciences, in September.

“I would like to get an education that will further my understanding of the environment and help to protect the wild spaces around us,” she says. “This is the one world we have and it’s really important we take care of it.”

The Centennial Leaders are part of UBC’s Centennial Scholars Entrance Award Program. The program Supports academically qualified  Canadian students who are financially unable to attend UBC.

UBC has doubled the  number of awards from previous years.

This year it presented 100 one-time and renewable Centennial Scholar Awards.

The school provided $70.2 million in financial assistance and awards for over 13,500 students, in 2015/16.

2016 Centennial Leaders:

▪Giuseppe Cagliuso – Burnaby, B.C.

▪Christian Michel Francis – Surrey, B.C.

▪Kara Froese – Cranbrook, B.C.

▪Natasha Donika Jollymour – Savona, B.C.

▪Louisa Xiluva Hill – Maputo, Mozambique

▪Elina Kreuzberg – Ottawa, ON.Kenji Lai – Vancouver, B.C.

▪Regan Sander Oey – Vancouver, B.C.

▪Jared Eugene Sexsmith – Lumby, B.C.

▪Zachary Andrew Whynot – Camperdown, N.S.

Mom’s voice stimulates a variety of regions in children’s brains

According to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine, a greater area of children’s brains is activated by their mother’s voice than by the voice of women they don’t know.

Brain regions in children that are strongly activated by the voice of their mothers extend beyond auditory ares to include regions involved in emotion, reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant and face recognition.

The study found that the strength of connections between the brain regions stimulated by the voice of the child’s mother would predict the child’s social communication abilities.

“Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom’s voice,” said lead author Daniel Abrams, PhD, instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “But surprisingly little is known about how the brain organizes itself around this very important sound source. We didn’t realize that a mother’s voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems.”

Many years of research has revealed children prefer their mother’s voice. In one classic study, one year old babies sucked harder on their pacifiers once they heard their mother’s voice as opposed to the voice of other woman.


Mother’s voice not only affects the auditory region in the brain of their children but also has an effect on other areas. (Photo courtesy of : www.freeimages.com)

However, the mechanism behind this inclination was not known.

“We want to know: Is it just auditory and voice -selective areas that respond differently, or is it more broad in terms of engagement, emotional reactivity and detection of salient stimuli?”, said senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

This study tested 24 children aged between 7 to 12 with an IQ of at least 80. Children were all raised by their biological mothers and did not have any developmental disorders.  Before the brain scans the voice of each mother was recorded saying three nonsense word.

Menon said these nonsense words were used to prevent the activation of a whole different set of circuitry in the brain.

The voice of two mothers whose children were not included in the experiment were recorded to use as controls.

The brain scans, revealed that even from very short clips, less than a second long, the children could distinguish their own mother’s voices with more than 97 percent accuracy.

“The extent of the regions that were engaged was really quite surprising”,  said Menon.

“We know that hearing mother’s voice can be an important source of emotional comfort to children,” said Abrams. “Here, we’re showing the biological circuitry underlying that.”

Children whose brains showed a stronger degree of connection between all the different regions while hearing their mother’s voices had the strongest social communication ability.

This finding shows increased brain connectivity between the regions, is a neural fingerprint for increased social communication abilities in children.

Menon said this finding is an important template to examine social communication defects in children with disorders such as autism.

“Voice is one of the most important social communication cues, It’s exciting to see that the echo of one’s mother’s voice lives on in so many brain systems.”

Study: Mushrooms could be used as sustainable building material

According to a new UBC study, mushrooms could take up a new role as sustainable building material. Who could imagine mushrooms in their furniture? In a cutting-edge design project, six new stylish benches have been placed outside the UBC bookstore, assembled from light-coloured honeycomb-shaped bricks. These bricks are then placed under a top of clear acrylic. The bricks are very much alive, grown from a mix of Oyster mushroom spores and alder sawdust packed into moulds. Assistant professor at UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Joe Dahmen, and his partner in work and life, Amber frid-Jimenez, Canada research Chair in Design and Technology at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, came up with this design when expecting their second child. While working on an architectural installment made of fabricated polystyrene blocks — which are not the most benign material —  they decided to look into more eco-friendly options. “Amber couldn’t get near the thing because it was so toxic,” Dahmen said. “It got me thinking that there must be a more natural material that would still enable a similar range of expression.”

In their search, Dahmen and Frid-Jimenez discovered the world of mycelium biocomposites. The product is a resistant material with qualities similar to polystyrene foams. Mycelium bicomposites are at risk of contamination by mould and bacteria if they are over half-metre in thickness. To overcome this obstacle, Dahmen created a new process inspired from the wasps’ nest. “I was really amazed at the honeycomb structure, because it’s a highly efficient way of occupying space,” he said. “It’s scalable, it can go in any direction, and it’s extremely spatially efficient.” “Their biggest application in the long run is in architecture and construction,” said Dahmen. “The average age of commercial buildings in North America is under 40 years. If we could imagine construction materials that add positive value to ecosystems as they break down, we have a whole new paradigm for the way we approach buildings, at a time when we’re demolishing most buildings long before they wear out.” According to Dahmen mycelium bicomposites could be used instead of polystyrene, from packaging to building insulation. “Styrofoam is a material that functions for a short amount of time as packaging, and then spends hundreds, if not thousands, of years in a landfill,” he added. Mycelium bicomposites not only require less energy to grow but also completely decompose when composted. They also help break down other materials in the waste stream and make them accessible to other organisms. An American company recently signed a contract to supply Ikea with mycelium-based packaging.  The method had yet to be done in Canada.

UBC study: low income groups need affordable dental care

According to a new UBC study, all Canadians especially the lowest-income groups should have dental care as part of their basic health care plan.

Researchers surveyed 567 clients from four major health care clinics in Ontario and British Columbia that served a large number of Aboriginal and low-income groups. Close to half (46 percent) of the participants considered their oral health being fair to poor and about the same number (44 Percent) said they often have pain in their mouth and teeth.

“Those numbers are three times higher than the general Canadian population as reported by the Canadian Health Measures Survey–clearly, the people we interviewed face tremendous oral health issues,” said UBC nursing professor Annette Browne, who led the study.

Browne said many of the participants may have underestimated their dental issues mainly because they were already tackling other social and health problems due to their financial burden.


According to a new UBC study dental care should be part of basic health care for all Canadians. ( Photo courtesy of : www.freeimages.com)


The research also revealed that individuals with fair oral health had difficulty eating a variety of foods due to missing teeth.

Co-researcher and UBC PhD graduate, Bruce Wallace, says the findings indicate the necessity for affordable dental services for some of Canada’s low-income groups.

Wallace said, economically disadvantaged groups have no dental insurance and have only access to public dental health benefits. Therefore, they often skip dental work due to the cost and other problems.

“No one should have to depend on charitable dentistry or volunteer dental clinics. We need to integrate oral health benefits within universal health insurance and consider offering dental care in alternate health care settings, such as community health care centres,” said Wallace.

Study: Companies and environmentalists working together can slow deforestation

According to a Stanford University study, collective efforts to reduce deforestation are more than twice as effective as “confrontational” programs implemented by either nongovernmental  organizations or industry.

Various eco-certifications inform consumers of their impact on deforestation. However, there hasn’t been much research on their effectiveness up until now.

The study finds that  these certifications have improved forest product sustainability to a great extent.

According to “Impacts of Nonstate, Market-Driven Governance on Chilean forests” published in “Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences”, Market-driven attempts have reduced deforestation to a great extent, with multi-party collaborations having the greatest impact.

“Our research shows that these market-based conservation efforts have reduced deforestation in Chile,” said lead author Robert Heilmayr, a recent graduate from Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, in the paper “Impacts of Nonstate, Market-Driven Governance on Chilean forests” published in “Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences”

A comparison on the conservation outcomes between CERTFOR, a largely industry developed certification program, Joint Solutions Project (JSP), an NGO-instigated deforestation moratorium and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a cooporation between industry and nongovernmental organizations, has provided insight into this issue.


FSC was most successful in reducing deforestation. (Photo Courtesy : www.morguefile.com)

While CERTFOR had 16 percent reduction in deforestation on average, JSP-only participants experienced an average reductions of 20 percent. With 43% reduction in deforestation, FSC resulted in the greatest success.

According to Heilmayr and co-author  Eric Lambin,the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, the balance between strict environmental requirements with cost-effective solutions was responsible for FSC’s leading success. This balance creates a notion among participants that their interests have been protected and hence they follow through on requirements.

The analysis also suggests in contrast to government policies, private and market-driven programs are better at lowering deforestation rates in places of high deforestation.

“Traditional conservation policies like national parks often protect remote, pristine locations,” Heilmayr said. “Agreements between companies and environmentalists can reduce deforestation in more threatened forests.”

“In the globalization era, deforestation is increasingly associated with consumption in distant, international markets,” said Lambin . “We need new approaches to environmental governance that regulate the impact of international actors.”

Quality of school impacts economic growth in developing countries: expert

The quality rather the quantity of education will better a nation’s economy in the developing world according to a Stanford University expert.

“If there is going to be inclusive economic development across the world, attention must focus on school quality and having all students achieve basic skills,” wrote Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist in a new study published in Science magazine.

The implications are more important for developing countries as these countries lack knowledge-based economies.

Many believe rates of school attendance, student enrollment and years of school to be major factors affecting the economy. However, economic growth is highly dependent on students’ basic skills in math and literacy.

Increasing human capital – the combined economic value of the skills, knowledge and experience within a community – has been misinterpreted in its implementation, according to Hanushek. He said it has led to policies looking to increase head counts, enrollment and retention in schools, ignoring important issues related to increasing skills and knowledge among students.

“We argue that too much attention is paid to the time spent in school, and too little is paid to the quality of the schools and the types of skills developed there,” Hanushek wrote with co-author Ludger Woessmann, an economics professor at the University of Munich.

The study indicates ‘knowledge capital’, cognitive skills of the population, rather than human capital of ‘school attainment’, the highest level of education completed, is the key factor in economic development. The study also finds student enrollment measures have no correlation to how much students are learning.

Track records show, leading world economies are changing to knowledge-based economies.

“They require both the skills to innovative and a highly skilled workforce to execute new designs. As economies move from agriculturally based to manufacturing based to knowledge based, the importance of cognitive skills becomes magnified,” he said.

He also added, job markets rapidly change in growing economies, requiring individuals to adjust to new demands.