June 4, 2010

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A look at how Simon Fraser University and its people made news: May 28-June 4, 2010

Research by associate prof Steve DiPaola of SFU Interactive Arts + Technology generated an instant wave of media coverage.
He found that Rembrandt, working in the 1600s, pioneered what are typically thought of as artistic techniques that developed only later.
Among other profs in the news: Mario Pinto on research that could lead to treatment for diabetes and obesity, Benedikt Fischer on prostitution, John Reynolds on salmon, Rob Gordon and Gail Anderson on crime, Kennedy Stewart, Patrick Smith and Marjorie Cohen on politics, and Elizabeth Elle and Mark Winston on bees.
More on these stories below.


  • "New research by a team of Canadians into the molecular structure of enzymes in the gut could have far-reaching implications for the treatment of diabetes and other diseases," Canwest News Service reported, with credit to Mario Pinto, SFU's vice-president of research.
    The story continued: "The mapping of these starch digesting enzymes, known as intestinal glucosidases, will help researchers look for ways to manipulate them in order to control diet-induced disorders, such as diabetes and obesity, said Pinto, a chemist.
    “The far-reaching goal would be to develop a dietary supplement to add to a diabetic's diet, he said. . . . 'One day, these inhibitors could be sprinkled on to food in a powder form to control starch digestion.'"
    We quickly saw the story in The Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald. The research findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

  • Benedikt Fischer of SFU Health Sciences did a long interview with the Morning North show on CBC Radio in Ontario. This after Sudbury police announced they would "shame the johns" by naming people charged with buying sex, and by sending letters to "curb-crawlers" who have been spotted in areas frequented by streetwalkers.
    Among Fischer's comments: "Typically what the main effects of these approaches are is that they push the problem around.  . . . If you solve the problem in neighbourhood X what you'll have in a year's time is that you get calls from neighbourhood Y or Z, or others, that all of a sudden they have sex-trade activities in their neighbourhood.”
    And, he said: "It's really not for the police to solve this problem. This is exactly what politicians and others need to understand. The police are there to enforce existing laws, and obviously with prostitution they haven’t made one inch of progress. . . . We need to go and revisit our approach to the sex trade."

  • John Reynolds, Tom Buell BC Leadership Chair in Salmon Conservation, did an interview on CBC Radio's national news, in a story on University of Washington research that looked at five decades of data from sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The researchers found that the diverse genetic strains in the overall salmon population—a diversity protected by Alaska fish and game authorities—have helped stabilize ecosystems and maintain the fishery.
    Reynolds likened the concept to having a diversified financial investment portfolio: "A diverse portfolio gives you a better longer-term return. We are not always managing fisheries that way."

  • A Terence Corcoran blog for National Post attacked what he described as a “junk-science campaign against BPA”. (That’s Bisphenol-A, a common chemical found in plastics and also used to coat the inside of food and beverage cans.)
    Corcoran took aim in particular at an SFU study: “Just the other week, two researchers at the University of North Carolina and British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University claimed to have evidence that the daughters of women exposed to BPA were more likely to show aggressive and hyperactive behaviours as two-year-olds.”
    “Just the other week” was actually early last October. Corcoran compounded that by mis-spelling the name of SFU Health Sciences researcher Bruce Lanphear, giving it as Lamphear.

  • SFU’s Marjorie Cohen was in a Maclean’s magazine story that told readers a swelling grassroots revolt against the province’s HST has Gordon Campbell fighting for his political life.” The story included this: “Polling data puts the NDP at 47 per cent, and Campbell’s Liberals at 29 per cent, a 17 per cent slide since the last election. And a core of voters will never vote for Campbell again, adds Simon Fraser University political scientist Marjorie Cohen.”


  • Lee Gavel, SFU's chief facilities officer and university architect, did a strong interview on the On the Coast show on CBC Radio, talking about how SFU is building a new winter operations centre at its Burnaby campus to reduce salty road runoff into nearby Stoney Creek, one of the Lower Mainland’s most productive fish streams.
    The $1-million university-funded structure will sit on an impermeable membrane to prevent salt migration. “‘We are having to dig really deep to do this in a time of scarce resources, but we believe it is the right thing to do regardless of the cost,” said Gavel.
    The Burnaby NewsLeader, Burnaby Now, and the Business Examiner picked up an SFU news release on the subject.

  • Public policy prof Kennedy Stewart wrote a guest column in The Vancouver Sun on a new Mustel Group poll showing the BC Liberals at a new low of 32 per cent. (NDP 44%; Greens 13%, Conservatives 7%.).
    Wrote Stewart: “I suspect if a B.C. election were indeed held today votes cast for the B.C. Liberal party would be closer to 36 per cent which, according to my model, gives the Liberals 25 seats and the NDP around 60. Still a Liberal wipeout, but perhaps not as bad as what the poll first indicates.

  • Stewart and colleague Patrick Smith were quoted as The Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail and other media reported that a BC government task force examining municipal elections has called for major changes to local campaigns, including capping how much money can be spent—but not limiting contributions.
    The Sun noted: “Simon Fraser University political scientists Patrick Smith and Kennedy Stewart, who have long argued for municipal campaign reforms, applauded the task force for making ‘significant’ recommendations that could make elections more transparent, curb spending, and improve enforcement when potential infractions surface.
    "‘The one weak spot in the task force report is the lack of contribution limits,’ Stewart said.”
    And Smith added: "They've done some decent work here. They've begun to tackle the issue of big money in elections but they haven't solved it."
    In the Globe and Mail, Smith gave the task force a mark of B+ or A-. "It seems to me that they've actually moved the posts. We're going to have decent information.” But regulation is “still going to have a pretty big hole and someone who wants can think of a variety of ways of creative spending.”

  • The Cowichan News Leader Pictorial reported the discovery of a new native mason-bee species by Elizabeth Elle, associate prof in SFU Biological Sciences, at the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve on Vancouver Island.
    “The non-aggressive mud-nest maker is among many other bee species Elle found at the preserve where native numbers are thriving due to the recovering site's diverse ecology.”
    "It hasn't been named yet," Elle said of the male insect (actually found in 2005). "Now we need to find a female."
    Preserve manager Irv Banman said Elle has identified 66 species of native bees at the Nature Conservancy of Canada's site near Maple Bay.
    Added Elle: “We have to preserve pollinators, and whole ecosystems, because ecosystems rely on bees, as do people. One out of every three bites you eat is thanks to a bee. Without bees, plants can't reproduce and they need these insects to move the pollen around. . . . Individuals can support bees in their gardens by planting native species, and having a diverse garden that blooms for a long time."

  • Meanwhile, the North Shore News ran a feature on bees, beekeeping, and the “the global epidemic of disappearing honeybees”. It quoted SFU bee expert Mark Winston: “If the collapse continues, it would be quite catastrophic. We would see reduced fruit and vegetables due to the lack of pollination."
    Winston also mused:
    “You would never find the equivalent of the House of Commons in a bee colony. That kind of adversarial way we deal with issues in the human world would not be well received in the bee world and I think we can learn something from that. An organism as small as a bee with a brain the size of a pinhead seems to have a much better organized way of viewing their collaborative interactions than we do."

  • Mark Jaccard, sustainable energy prof and former chair of the BC Utilities Commission, wrote a guest column in The Vancouver Sun on BC's proposed Clean Energy Act.
    "The key controversy is its proposed replacement of the utilities commission with the provincial cabinet for approving major BC Hydro projects and programs. . . . It is important that the commission, which is after all unelected, not thwart legitimate government policy objectives. At the same time, the commission has demonstrated through the years the value of an arm's-length agency that provides a check on major electricity investment decisions. . . . “While quick actions are needed to move B.C. toward a cleaner, more electricity-intensive economy, we must be careful not to jettison oversight mechanisms that have served us quite well."

  • CTV carried a story on BC business owners and economists who say the HST could be good for the economy. It included this: “Jon Kesselman of Simon Fraser University's Public Policy Program says the HST will also benefit the broader economy.  ‘The HST will make our businesses more competitive,’ he told CTV News. ‘It will encourage more investment which means growing jobs, higher wages and more exports from B.C. to the rest of Canada and around the world.’"

  • The Vancouver Sun reported a dip in real estate prices and sales in the Fraser Valley.  "Andrey Pavlov, a business professor at Simon Fraser University, said this spring's slowdown in the Fraser Valley has not been particularly startling considering . . . developers (last year) stopped building new homes and possible vendors of existing homes became reluctant to sell just as buyers began jumping back into the market. 'Of course that was going to push prices very high very quickly,' Pavlov said. 'Now that situation has been remedied.'"

The ART of ART

  • A masterpiece of research from associate prof Steve DiPaola of SFU Interactive Arts + Technology generated an instant wave of media coverage.
    Here’s how the Toronto Sun, for example, told the story: “Where the magic of Rembrandt's portraits is concerned, it's all about the eyes—the eyes of the viewer, that is. (DiPaola’s) research has found that in his later portraits, the Dutch master used artistic techniques to emphasize certain parts of the face and guide the viewer's eye through the painting.
    “The study, written by Simon Fraser University's Steve DiPaola and two professors from UBC, argues that Rembrandt, working in the 1600s, pioneered what are typically thought of as artistic techniques that developed later.
    “Published in the current issue of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's journal Leonardo, DiPaola's study shows that as Rembrandt's painting style became more painterly and less uniformly-detailed as he aged, the artist was using techniques to draw the eye into a work.
    “Rembrandt was a master of this technique,” DiPaola said. “He used it and did in the right way, formalized it to where it became a technique that other people use.”
    The Sun noted DiPaola used a computer painting program to turn photographs of himself and grad students into painterly portraits done in the style of the Dutch master. “The researchers then showed the portraits and the original photographs to a survey pool of 30 university students and tracked their eye movements as they looked at each image. The portraits that used Rembrandt's techniques … provided ‘calmer’ viewing experiences and were considered the more artistic portraits by the participants.”
    DiPaola found himself pursued by a string of media outlets. He did 15 interviews in less than a day when the news broke. As well as the Toronto Sun and The Vancouver Sun, there was coverage in the Globe and Mail, The Province, Montreal Gazette, CBC, CTV, National Public Radio, Yahoo News,,, the Winnipeg Free Press, the London (ON) Free Press, the Stratford (ON) Beacon-Herald, the Truro (NS) Daily News, Métro Montréal,,, Newstalk1010 in the U.S.,,,, and a bevy of blogs.


  • The national news on CBC Radio had criminologist Rob Gordon on the air following a police raid on “one of the biggest marijuana grow-ops ever” in the province, 40km east of Prince George.
    Gordon, director of SFU Criminology, said: “A single major bust like this puts a dent in the market.” He suggested the market for the $2 million worth of pot would likely have been Alberta “because there’s a large accumulation of individuals working in the energy sector who are good customers with lots of money.”
    Gordon added: “But this won’t be the only other operation that’s in the vicinity; there’ll be a lot more hidden away in different parts of the countryside, there.”

  • Closer to home, Gordon was also on GlobalTV in a story on organized crime's role in the booming production in BC of illegal drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy) and GHB. Noting that key ingredients (precursor chemicals) are often imported in bulk from China or India, Gordon said: "There needs to be some regulation on the importation of precursors." But, he added, that could also affect legitimate business.

  • Then Gordon was on CFAX Radio in Victoria, talking about a police raid on a Kamloops marijuana grow-op, and the seizure of weapons and 30,000-40,000 rounds of ammunition.  Gordon suggested the arsenal was in payment for a load of marijuana smuggled into the U.S. in “the great exchange” of the Canada-U.S. drug trade.

  • Forensic scientist Gail Anderson wrote a blog for the World Wildlife Fund Canada on the use of forensic entomology to combat poachers. She wrote of a case in which her evidence helped convict two men who killed two bear cubs in Manitoba.  "I was able to estimate the elapsed time since death of the cubs and this was used in the conviction of the two poachers. The judge considered the insect evidence to be extremely valuable."
    As well, she wrote: "Conservation officers are unfortunately not nearly as aware of forensic evidence as police officers. This is something I really want to change and I am actively involved in teaching conservation officers the value of insect evidence."

  • The Nanaimo Daily News looked at teen-on-teen thefts of cellphones, iPods and even high-priced running shoes.  “A Simon Fraser University criminologist, Neil Boyd, said that just because a young person is considered ‘a prolific offender’ by police doesn't mean that person will enter a life of crime. Boyd said a ‘very small percentage of young offenders continue committing crimes once they have reached adulthood.’"


  • At the NAIA outdoor track and field championships in Marion IN, the SFU Clan duo of Helen Crofts and Jessica Smith pushed each other to the limit to win titles. Crofts took the 800m event, edging Smith during the final stretch, while Smith won the 1500m crown, beating Crofts over the last 40m. SFU’s Brianna Kane placed third.
    Including an earlier women’s 4x800m relay title, the Crofts-Smith duo combined to score 46 of the women’s 56 points to lead SFU to third place on the women’s side of the competition.
    “I can’t even believe what they accomplished this weekend,” said SFU head coach Brit Townsend. “They each ran six races this weekend, and they have both been so positive, they never complained once, and they ran with such authority.”
    SFU Athletics posted a video recap at

  • Eleven Clan athletes earned NAIA All-American status. And, following the meet, the Clan team was honoured for its contributions off the track, through the 2010 NAIA Champions of Character team award. The award recognizes respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship.
    Three members of the team were also honoured as NAIA Scholar-Athletes: Sviatoslav Moldavanov, Rachelle Barnett and Emily Palibroda.

  • Following a record-setting performance at the Fraser Valley High School Championships, Travis Vugteveen of Chilliwack has committed to the Clan track and field team for the 2010-11 season. He is the first men’s track recruit announced by SFU head coach Brit Townsend as SFU makes the transition into the NCAA next season.

 Also in sports:

  • The Winnipeg Sun reported that high-school quarterback Ben Allen, sought by five universities, has “opted to follow his heart” and will join the SFU football program in the fall. “It was a really tough choice,” said Allen, who plans to study kinesiology. “I definitely wanted to be a quarterback. . . . I’m going into a great situation there and trying to win the starting spot there.”

  • Surrey Now reported that centre Kyle Leung of the North Delta Devils will skate with the SFU ice hockey club for the 2010-11 B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League season. Leung totalled 56 goals and 115 points in 113 games over three seasons with the Devils.

  • The Vancouver Sun and other media reported that a new program of safety guidelines aimed at preventing concussions will cover amateur football players in BC.  Former SFU Clan player safety Scott Kehoe was quoted: “When I first started [playing football 18 years ago] and you had a concussion it was just another injury like if you turned an ankle. You sucked it up and went back out and played, whereas now with the technology and medical understanding we have things have changed.”

  • Second Run: The Hockey News developed a story from last week’s SFU news release from on a study, by prof Peter Tingling and Kamal Masri of SFU Business, of NHL entry draft decision-making. The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times also ran the news release.


  • A special section in the Globe and Mail on Western Canadian universities included a couple of items on SFU:
    • “At Simon Fraser University, its 4D LABS—which designs, develops, demonstrates and delivers advanced materials and nanoscale devices—works on solutions that enable cleaner energy, better information technologies and improved health care. 'If industry, Crown corporations, medical centres or government agencies come to us with a general problem, we can scratch our heads for a while, apply our skill sets to provide solutions for those problems and build a team to tackle those problems based on finances from industry and government,' says Neil Branda, executive director, 4D LABS.”
    • “At Simon Fraser University, computing science students can spend two years of their studies at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. The first student to graduate from the dual degree computing science program, Mark Chua, was born in the Philippines, raised in Canada and has a Chinese heritage. He wanted to learn to speak Mandarin fluently, explore his cultural background and take advantage of the opportunity to earn two university degrees. ‘I lived there for two years. It is so different from here,’ says Mr. Chua. ‘It’s something I’ll always be able to talk about; going abroad to study at a Chinese university.’
      "Danyu Zhao, coordinator of the dual degree program, says holding two bachelor’s degrees that are well recognized in both the West and East provides a competitive advantage in the global job market. “This program equips students with good cross-cultural communication skills, the ability to quickly adapt to new environments and experience working in the IT industry in a foreign country.”
  • Two letters to the editor followed up on a Vancouver Sun story last week on how 19 men—and not a single woman—had been named to new Canada Excellence Research Chair positions.
    • Lisa Craig, assistant prof in SFU Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MBB) wrote: "To me, the issue of recruiting foreign researchers is even more serious than the gender equity issue (while) research funds are becoming more and more scarce. . . . It's time the Canadian government recognized the high cost of research and its tremendous value. The $20 million spent on external hires would have been better spent on existing Canadian researchers."
    • A second letter (from a female prof at Acadia University) took issue with a quote in the Sun attributed to MBB chair Bruce Brandhorst.
      "(Brandhorst) is quoted as saying part of the reason for the scarcity of women selected was that only five per cent of PhDs are granted to women in some fields. He needs to check his facts. According to Statistics Canada, in 2004-05 Canadian women represented almost 70 per cent of PhDs in health sciences, more than 50 per cent in biology and more than 30 per cent in physical sciences. Women are the least represented in engineering, but even there they receive around 15 per cent of the doctorates granted."
  • The Williams Lake Tribune picked up a BC government news release that announced eight new degree programs at BC universities—including "a master of arts degree in humanities at Simon Fraser University. This program will train students to think critically in different disciplines, historical periods and cultures."


  • The Victoria Times Colonist featured rapper Shadrach Kabango of SFU as he toured there this week to launch his third album. “The Canadian rap sensation, known simply as Shad, just finished his latest album TSOL, is on tour and, somehow, still manages to find study time for his master's degree in liberal studies at Simon Fraser University.”
    Canwest News Service sent the story across the country, and we spotted it in the Edmonton Journal. The Regina Leader-Post did its own story; he‘ll be there next week.



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