The year in review

The year in review

Some of the cutting-edge research covered in 2008
December 23, 2008

It’s been a stellar year in the world of science. The CERN Large Hadron Collider finally powered up in Switzerland to help shed new light on particle physics, NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander sent its last signals to Earth, and the University of Toronto announced its plans to build Canada’s most powerful and energy-efficient supercomputer. At, we’ve covered everything from the miracle prosthetic “bionic arm” and disease-killing nano-probes to Arctic classrooms and the science of preserving art. Here are some other highlights from 2008.

A Helping Hand: Invention guides people through CPR

Nearly 45,000 Canadians die of cardiac arrest every year, and in many cases, lives could have been saved if CPR had been done properly. Studies show that although survival rates are about four times greater when CPR is administered, compressions are improperly administered almost 60 percent of the time. These sobering statistics drove McMaster engineering students, Corey Centen and Nilesh Patel to develop a sensor-laden CPR glove, a remarkable invention that guides people through the right compressions and breathing steps to ensure the best chances for survival.

A Stargazer’s Guide to the Universe: Meteor watchers

The University of Western Ontario’s (UWO) Meteor Physics Group has revolutionized the way we observe meteors. With the help of UWO’s leading-edge Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar, Peter Brown and his research team can collect dust, grains of sand, and chunks of rock that enter the Earth’s atmosphere—materials that could help scientists better understand our planet’s development and even the very origins of life. The group also regularly sends information on meteor activity to NASA to help their spacecraft avoid meteor showers.

Alien Forecast: Searching for Martian water

Where there is water, there is life, and the Canadian Space Agency’s LIDAR—a light-detecting and ranging device that uses laser light—returned from Mars where it gathered an array of data to help determine if water really does exist on the red planet. Led by York University’s Jim Whiteway, the research team used LIDAR’s ability to measure atmospheric dust and detect clouds to hunt for the elusive water.

A New Shade of Green: Building for the future

The UN’s 2005 Commission on Population and Development stated that more than five billion people will be living in urban areas by 2030. If the prediction is right, the need for sustainable building is greater than ever before. John Robinson of the University of British Columbia and Vancouver architect Peter Busby have joined forces to build a revolutionary research building that is being hailed as the greenest building on Earth. Located in Vancouver, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability will, when it opens in 2010, be a living laboratory that will show industry skeptics that a cutting-edge building can not only be cost-efficient, but can actually improve the local environment.

Touching A Chord: Understanding your instrument

Hoping to help pianists better understand their instrument, Stephen Birkett, an engineer and leader of the Piano Design Laboratory at the University of Waterloo, is studying the effects of touch on the tone of a piano note. Physicists would argue that a player’s touch can only influence the speed of the hammer when it hits the string, but Birkett, also an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music, has discovered that the rigidity of the post holding the hammer affects its vibration, and in turn, how it hits the string. This influences the tone of a note. His theory explains why older pianos sound differently than newer ones—and could be helpful for any pianist looking to perfect their craft.